About a quarter of middle-class American families were unable to pay their medical bills in full in 2020, with black and Latino families facing the highest levels of medical debt, according to reports from the Third Way Research Center and the US Census Bureau.
- A recent study by the Third Way Research Center using data from the US Census Bureau found that middle-class families across many different groups have the highest levels of medical debt in the United States.
- The report is based on data from 2020, and finds that nearly a quarter of middle-class people with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 were unable to pay their medical expenses in full.
- Middle-class blacks and Hispanics, in particular, face the highest rates of medical debt.
About 17 million middle-class people, or 23.5% – those with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 – did not pay medical bills in 2020. Of these, 22% were affected by low-income individuals and 9% by those with incomes. similarly elevated. This is despite the fact that middle-class families tend to have higher rates of good insurance coverage and that lower-income families may tend to avoid seeking care because of the high costs.
According to the third wave study, middle-class people face the highest rates of medical debt even when accounting for a range of variables, including education level, parental status, health insurance coverage, and location within the United States. Races and ethnicities have higher rates of medical debt than their counterparts in other income groups, and middle-class Black and Hispanic individuals are hit particularly hard.
the most affected groups
About 4 million, or 37.5%, of middle-class blacks have this type of debt, compared to 29% of low-income people and 21.5% of high-income individuals, while 6 million, or 25.2%, of class The average Hispanic member has unpaid medical bills, compared to 20.3% of low-income and 18.3% of high-income people.
Middle-class people with a bachelor’s degree have slightly lower levels of medical debt (16.5%) than those with some college (25.5%), a high school diploma (26%), or no high school diploma (27.1%). However, across these groups, middle-class people have higher debt burdens than low- or high-income individuals.
Debt by age
When accounting for age, middle-class Americans have higher medical debt than those of other income levels in every age group except for those 65 and older. In this case, 14.4% of middle-class people over the age of 65 suffer from this type of debt, compared to 15.9% of people with lower incomes of the same age.
And in the South, 8 million, or 28.1%, of the middle class carry medical debt. The Midwest has the highest percentage, with 4 million or 24.6%. In the northeast, 2 million people are affected, representing 18.8% of the middle class, while 9 million, or 17.8%, in the west share this burden.
Notably, the Third Way report, which is based on a demographic survey of income and participation in programs, considers individuals as having medical debt if anyone in their household does.
The health policy research organization KFF estimates that 100 million Americans have some medical debt. Using the same census data set, the KFF notes that it is unclear what effect the pandemic and resulting financial crisis will have on medical debt.