Smartphone data highlights how Americans coped with the pandemic-induced recession

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·3 min read

The collective financial hardship experienced by Americans during the coronavirus pandemic led to intensified use of smartphones to cope, according to new data provided exclusively to Yahoo Money from wireless networking company Global Wireless Solutions (GWS).

The data, based on more 75,000 mobile users across the country who opted in, found that smartphone usage spiked in 2020 because of the country’s collective forced downtime.

“When coronavirus took hold, smartphones became further cemented as a link between isolated consumers and the world at large, thus their usage is increasingly becoming an accurate reflection of human behavior on the whole,” Dr. Paul Carter, founder and CEO of Global Wireless Solutions, told Yahoo Money.

Read more: Coronavirus: The best ways to help others in need

Government-provided nutrition benefits management smartphone app, Fresh EBT saw a 152% usage increase during the first year of the pandemic reflecting the financial hardship experienced by millions of people, according to data from Global Wireless Solutions made exclusive to Yahoo Money. (Photo: Getty)
Government-provided nutrition benefits management smartphone app, Fresh EBT saw a 152% usage increase during the first year of the pandemic reflecting the financial hardship experienced by millions of people, according to data from Global Wireless Solutions made exclusive to Yahoo Money. (Photo: Getty)

Users flocked to finance apps most, followed by increased social media usage, along with accessing food delivery and basic services like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Fresh EBT, an app used to check food stamp balance, ranked seventh among the top 10 financial mobile apps when measuring usage from March 2020 to February 2021.

"While there was significant usage increase among financial apps, certainly it was for varied reasons," Carter said. "The significant spike in Fresh EBT’s unique users and frequency of use reflects the financial hardship many Americans felt during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Read more: Coronavirus: How to apply for food stamps

The data analysis showed that users in Ohio, Michigan, and Louisiana had the biggest gain in users of the Fresh EBT mobile app, up 7 percentage points or more compared to pre-COVID levels. The remaining states in the top 10 were Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia, and West Virginia.

The widespread hunger crisis continues to be felt across the country, with households of color and those with children being disproportionately affected

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As the first round of government stimulus checks arrived in bank accounts of qualifying Americans, the frequency of weekly use for the Fresh EBT app stabilized and then declined slightly for three months. 

At the end of July, right around the time the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits expired, the frequency of use per week began to increase again.

With $12 billion of the latest $1.9 trillion stimulus plan earmarked for addressing the nation’s hunger and food insecurity crisis, struggling Americans can anticipate increased and extended SNAP benefits and a tech system overhaul that will bring mobile pay and online purchasing to beneficiaries.

Read more about the data here.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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