Which U.S. Cities Needed Their Stimulus Checks the Most?

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Man in a mask holding stimulus money
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on HireAHelper.

The U.S. economy is in far better shape than it was at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.

Unemployment is approaching pre-pandemic levels, GDP growth is up significantly, and many workers — especially lower earners — have seen a boost in wages (though the effect of this has been tempered by recent inflation).

This is in contrast with two years ago, when the expanding pandemic created uncertainty and spiking unemployment rates. In response, the federal government stepped in with unprecedented levels of financial relief to U.S. households in the form of three major stimulus packages that were passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021.

One of the signature components of Congress’s economic relief efforts was a series of Economic Impact Payments made to U.S. households. Payment amounts and eligibility varied in each package, but most lower and middle-income households received $3,200 per adult across three payouts, with more for households with dependents.

U.S. Census survey data from July 2020, just a few months after the initial round of payments from the CARES Act, showed that the payments were a significant help to many households in covering regular living expenses. More than 60% of U.S. adults —150 million people — used their stimulus checks to cover living expenses, far more than the share who paid off debt or simply saved the money.

To determine the locations where residents had to spend stimulus checks to get by, researchers at HireAHelper calculated the share of adults who reported using stimulus to cover “living expenses.” The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. More on our methodology is at the end.

Here are the U.S. metros where the greatest share of residents had to spend stimulus checks to get by.

15. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

Boston, Massachusetts
Roman Babakin / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 54.0%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 10.7%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 12.7%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 22.6%

14. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Washington, D.C.
orhan-cam / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 55.4%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 11.7%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 10.0%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 22.9%

13. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

Downtown Seattle
Mark Payne / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 56.5%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 10.5%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 12.9%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 20.1%

12. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

THONGCHAI.S / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 59.4%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 10.7%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 7.1%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 22.8%

11. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA

San Francisco, California
IM_photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 60.1%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 4.8%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 9.7%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 25.4%

10. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

Highway traffic in Los Angeles, California
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 63.5%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 11.0%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 6.6%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 18.8%

9. Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ

Phoenix, Arizona
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 63.7%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 10.6%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 9.6%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 16.1%

8. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

Philadelphia cityscape
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 63.8%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 12.1%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 11.2%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 12.9%

7. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

Chicago, Illinois
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 65.3%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 11.2%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 7.7%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 15.9%

6. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

Detroit, Michigan
Harold Stiver / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 65.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 9.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 13.3%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 10.8%

5. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 66.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 6.1%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 6.0%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 21.0%

4. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA

Atlanta, Georgia
f11 photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 66.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 11.0%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 7.7%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 14.4%

3. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Aneese / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 67.4%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 9.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 8.7%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 14.0%

2. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL

Miami, Florida
GagliardiImages / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 71.4%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 8.4%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 6.3%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 13.9%

1. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

Riverside California neighborhood
Matt Gush / Shutterstock.com
  • Adults who used stimulus to cover living expenses: 72.9%
  • Adults who used stimulus to pay off debt: 10.5%
  • Adults who used stimulus to add to savings: 6.0%
  • Adults who did not receive stimulus: 10.5%

Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
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The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey Week 12, which covered the time period of July 16, 2020, through July 21, 2020. To determine the locations where residents had to spend stimulus checks to get by, researchers calculated the share of adults who used the stimulus money to cover living expenses, ranked from high to low.

In the event of a tie, the location with the higher share of adults who used the stimulus to pay off debt was ranked higher. Only U.S. states and the 15 major metros with available data from the Household Pulse Survey were included in this analysis.