Economic Precarity Among LGBT Workers

Though data suggest that LGBT1 individuals are more likely to be employed than their cis-hetero counterparts, many LGBT workers struggle with unmet needs. Food insecurity, housing hardship, barriers to health care access, and medical discrimination are all major issues LGBT workers face.2 Crucially, these struggles are distributed unevenly along lines of race, class, and gender. Queer people with ready access to resources and community support do not necessarily struggle with issues of income stability in the same way that lower-income queer folks without social supports do.

Using survey data from the Federal Reserve, this article reports the latest numbers on an increasingly prevalent phenomenon: month-to-month income swings driven by the prevalence of the gig economy and unstable shift work. Many low-wage, marginalized workers face this kind of instability, and this affects the health and well-being of LGBT workers. Main findings include:

  • LGBT workers in the US struggle with issues of economic precarity at a significantly higher rate than their cis-hetero counterparts.
  • While 41 percent of LGBT workers struggle with the affordability of medical care, 24 percent of non-LGBT workers struggle with this.
  • Faced with a sudden $400 expense, 44 percent of LGBT workers would need to borrow money to cover it, while 31 percent of non-LGBT workers would need to borrow.
  • Disparities in economic well-being for LGBT workers are exacerbated for people of color, especially Black workers.
  • Issues of income instability are driving these disparities. Among LGBT people, those with stable income streams struggle with economic precarity at significantly lower rates than those with inconsistent income.


The data employed in this study come from the Federal Reserve’s annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). To obtain sufficient sample size, we pooled data from 2021–2023. Results are based on weighted data. The survey features multiple questions about gender and sexuality, allowing respondents to indicate whether they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and also whether they are transgender or non-binary. However, the survey does not give information on whether respondents self-identify as queer, intersex, or asexual.3 Therefore, our results do not fully capture the economic situation of all people who identify as LGBTQIA+. Please view Table A2 for key measures in the analysis.


Roughly 8.8 percent of employed adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The ethnoracial composition of LGBT workers is roughly the same as for all workers, though Hispanics are more represented (see Table 1 in Appendix). LGBT people are employed at a higher rate than their cis-hetero counterparts (71 versus 63 percent), but LGBT workers still face elevated rates of health care hardship and involuntary income fluctuation. This is likely because they work for employers who do not provide health insurance, or because their intermittent employment leads to inconsistent income. A strong social safety net would protect workers from this kind of instability, but the US lacks universal health care, paid leave, and other important protections at the national level.

Figure 1 shows that, between LGBT and non-LGBT people, there are significant differences in the proportions reporting variable income and inability to cover a large expense. While 41 percent of LGBT workers struggle with the affordability of medical care, 24 percent of non-LGBT workers struggle with this. Faced with a sudden $400 expense, 44 percent of LGBT workers would need to borrow money to cover it, while 31 percent of non-LGBT workers would need to borrow. These gaps are statistically significant (p-value <0.001) according to a chi-square test. Workers in precarious employment already face stress and discrimination, and the struggles of living as a queer person compound these issues.

Figure 1

Precarity is much higher among LGBT workers with unstable incomes (see Figure 2). For example, among LGBT workers with a stable income, 34 percent experience unaffordable health care, while 53 percent of those with unstable income experience unaffordable health care. The between-group differences are statistically significant for three major indicators of economic precarity: health care affordability, inconsistent hours, and the inability to cover an emergency expense without borrowing (see Table 1 in Appendix).

Figure 2

Among LGBT workers who report unstable income, Hispanic workers are vastly overrepresented. While only making up 17 percent of all workers, Hispanics make up 25 percent of LGBT workers with unstable income. More broadly, Figure 3 shows that the racialized nature of work in America has significant consequences for nonwhite queer workers, especially for black workers. The likelihood of working inconsistent hours is generally higher for LGBT workers, but this disparity is magnified for nonwhite workers. The 1 percentage point gap for white workers is dwarfed by the 9 percentage point gap for Black workers, and the disparities are significant for other racial groups as well.

Figure 3

Some might think that these disparities are due in large part to the relative youth of LGBT people. It is true that 54 percent of LGBT adult workers are under 35, while roughly 30 percent of non-LGBT workers are in that age bracket (see Table 1 in Appendix). To dispel concerns about this explaining our results, we conducted the same analysis for workers aged 18 to 35. We found that LGBT-based disparities in health care affordability, inconsistent income, and inability to cover a large expense were all statistically significant at the 0.001 level.


Evidently, the living standards of LGBT workers differ greatly depending on whether their income is stable. While it is important to recognize that LGBT workers face greater rates of economic precarity, it is even more important to understand the underlying causes of this disparity. Policies that help workers attain and maintain economic stability are crucial. Gig-economy industries and highly variable shift work are not avenues for economic freedom, and this is especially true for queer workers.

The Federal Reserve has helped tremendously by incorporating data on sexuality and gender identity into its annual surveys. If the Current Population Survey and American Community Survey were to incorporate this kind of data collection, we could make more advanced conclusions about the condition of LGBT workers in different states. Certainly, safety net policies and labor regulations at the state level are just as influential on workers’ daily lives as federal policies are.


Table 1

Table 2

  1. An umbrella term encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Other identities are often included in this acronym, but data limitations precluded analysis of those groups.
  2. For recent research on this, see two articles from Kinitz et al.: and
  3. We exclude those reporting “other”, “something else” or missing information on both gender identity and sexual orientation variables. We acknowledge that the Household Pulse Survey has a much larger sample size for studying the LGBTQ population. However, due to the questions of interest, SHED is among just a few datasets that collect information on workers’ short-term economic instability.

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