The Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research (CLEAR) and Movement Advancement Project (MAP) have released a new study on how queer and trans people are doing financially, post-pandemic. The 26-page report, titled LGBTQI+ Economic and Financial (LEAF) Survey: Understanding the Financial Lives of LGBTQI+ People in the United States, charts the financial well-being of LGBT+ adults, their financial priorities and concerns, and how discrimination and identities factor into their finances.
The details are grim: Many responding to the survey don’t have a checking or savings account, are unable to pay their bills, and are concerned about whether they can afford basic necessities and/or health care. One section of the study addresses the factors that only LGBT+ people face, such as the costs of “family formation,” which include artificial insemination, adoption, foster care and surrogacy; costs for name changes and identity validations; and the costs of gender-affirming care. Of the 2,505 people who took the survey in December 2022, only half said they could pay all their monthly bills in full.
The top five financial priorities for LGBT+ respondents to the survey were paying their bills on time, reducing or paying off their personal debt, improving their credit score, saving for gender-affirming care, and contributing to an emergency fund for sudden, unforeseen expenses. Sixty percent of respondents worry about affording basic necessities, and 56 percent are concerned about affording health care — well above their straight and cisgender peers.
The overall findings of this inaugural LEAF survey are startling and show that, as the report concludes, “Despite marketing myths and popular misconceptions of the LGBTQI+ community as affluent and conspicuous consumers, LGBTQI+ people are more frequently in poverty and more financially insecure than non-LGBTQI+ people. This is especially true for LGBTQI+ people of color and transgender people.”
The report notes, “the findings also show that LGBTQI+ adults experience unique financial challenges in response to their LGBTQI+ identification. These challenges range from financial and social exclusion from their families of origin to harassment and discrimination by financial service companies and professionals, and more.”
The survey’s data are similar to previous research and data showing that LGBTQ+ people experience high rates of poverty, as PGN has previously reported. MAP also has reported that legal failures create financial penalties for LGBT Americans, because anti-LGBT laws at the national, state and local levels contribute to significantly higher rates of poverty among LGBT Americans and create unfair financial penalties in the form of higher taxes, reduced wages and Social Security income, increased healthcare costs, and more.
Spencer Watson, executive director at CLEAR and one of the authors of the study, told media that the statistics in the LEAF study “underlines why many LGBTQ+ people are only able to focus on building the most basic elements of financial security, instead of looking further into the future by planning for retirement, starting a business or buying a home.”
Watson said, “Folks are really focusing on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know, the lowest rung of their needs and not really, at this point, striving for those higher-order needs.”
Bianca D.M. Wilson, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law — which has contributed numerous studies on LGBT+ social, legal and economic issues, including “LGBT Poverty in the United States: Trends at the Onset of COVID-19” — told Yahoo News that this latest study delves more deeply into “what economic instability looks like for LGBTQ+ people,” particularly looking at banking resources.
Wilson said the report “provides more information around issues of savings, whether or not people have reliable systems for being able to pay bills without maintaining cash such as checking accounts, concerns over debts.”
LGBT+ respondents more often reported that they had little in savings or investments. Over half of LGBT+ people (51%) had less than $5,000 in savings, including 20% who had no savings at all. This is much lower than the median amount of savings and investments among U.S. households overall, which was $25,700, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances in 2019.
The vast majority of LGBT+ people (82%) had some form of personal debt. Nearly half of LGBT+ respondents (48%) had more than $10,000 in personal debt, including 20% who had $50,000 or more in debt. The largest sources of personal debt for LGBT+ respondents were student loans and credit cards. Seven in ten transgender respondents (70%) said that saving for gender-affirming care was a top (27%) or important (43%) financial priority for them.
Twenty-three percent of LGBTQ+ respondents to the survey said that they do not have a checking or a savings account. That high number of “unbanked” people is linked to deeper disenfranchisement for LGBTQ+ people who work in cash-based economies and have been excluded from basic financial services, as Dr. David Vincent, Chief Program Officer with SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), previously told PGN. Vincent said this makes it difficult for LGBT+ people to save money and generate wealth.
A significant worry for LGBT+ people was discrimination. More than one in four LGBT+ respondents (27%) said they were very or somewhat financially concerned about discrimination at work. This number is significantly higher for transgender people and LGBT+ people of color.
Also, 54% of transgender people and 38% of LGBT+ people of color say they are very or somewhat concerned about discrimination at work.
LEAF found “transgender and gender-nonconforming people are among the lowest-paid LGBTQ+ people working full-time in the country and are often kept in poverty by a combination of factors including discrimination, health care costs and a lack of basic financial resources.”
Becoming a parent can be especially expensive for LGBT+ people, who more often form a family through adoption, foster care, or assisted reproductive technology. Among LGBT+ people who were not yet parents but said they wanted to become parents, 23% said that saving for family formation costs such as adoption, fertility, or conception-related costs was a top or important financial priority for them.
LGBT+ respondents reported negative feelings about their financial outlooks with the most common emotion LGBT+ people reported being anxiety, with 46% reporting this emotion. Roughly twice as many LGBT+ respondents as non-LGBT+ respondents reported feeling anxious (46% vs. 23%), overwhelmed (41% vs. 22%), and depressed (32% vs. 16%) about their finances. Only one in five LGBT+ respondents said they felt in control (20%), and even fewer (17%) said they felt confident about their finances.
LGBT+ respondents who were women, younger adults and those with lower incomes were more likely to report negative feelings and less likely to report positive ones, compared with LGBT+ men, older adults, or those with higher incomes.
Half of all LGBT+ respondents (50%) had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Also, discrimination by banking institutions creates additional financial stress for LGBT+ people, the survey found. One in 10 (11%) respondents to the survey said that they had faced discrimination while using banking or financial services, while nearly 1 in 4 LGBT+ respondents said that they had experienced financial challenges because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Respondents described being harassed by employees and by other customers, denied joint accounts or loans with their same-sex partners, and denied services due to their name or gender being updated on identity documents. This also meant LGBT+ people responding were more likely to be taken advantage of by payday loans and other predatory financial services, including pawn shops.
LGBT+ people reported losing the ability to rely financially on their families after coming out, with even more transgender and nonbinary respondents reporting losing financial support from family after coming out about their gender identity. One in five LGBT+ respondents and one in three transgender respondents reported being ostracized from family gatherings due to their LGBT+ identity.
The report concludes with a slew of suggestions for improving the financial status of LGBT+ people, including passing the Equality Act and the Credit Reporting Accuracy After a Legal Name Change Act, as well as supporting inclusive definitions of family and expanded paid family leave measures.
The survey, conducted by Morning Consult with a margin of error of 2 percentage points, is non-representative, which means it reflects the experiences of respondents rather than the total population.Read the full report at https://www.mapresearch.org/.