This pandemic is exacerbating these structural inequities, doling out the most damage to couples and families who are already worse-off economically. Households led by cohabiting parents are almost twice as likely as those headed by married parents to be poor, and mother-only homes are the poorest of all. These are the households that have been hardest-hit by the current crisis. By mid-May, nearly 40 percent of workers in homes earning less than $40,000 had lost their jobs, compared with 13 percent of those in homes making more than $100,000. For poor and middle-class Americans, who had already taken much longer than richer households to recover from the Great Recession, this is an enormous setback.
It’s also part of a vicious cycle: The same economic forces that have disproportionately harmed unmarried Americans during the pandemic are pushing marriage even further out of reach. Some obstacles are logistical: Couples are canceling weddings, and many single people are isolated at home; in Las Vegas, the so-called wedding capital of the world, the sale of marriage licenses was down nearly 90 percent in June. But the most daunting barriers are structural. The industries hit hardest by COVID-19 are those that employ low-wage workers, and reports estimate that it will take more than a decade for the economy to recover. Rising unemployment and dwindling savings may spur some couples to move in together, but cohabiters of convenience rarely last.