Economic Anxiety Index®

There’s been a dramatic spike in Americans’ economic anxiety

David Brancaccio and Rose Conlon May 5, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
Many Americans are scared they won't be able to afford basic necessities after losing income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

There’s been a dramatic spike in Americans’ economic anxiety

David Brancaccio and Rose Conlon May 5, 2020
Many Americans are scared they won't be able to afford basic necessities after losing income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Forty-four percent of Americans are worried about their ability to afford food or groceries right now, according to new data from our regular Marketplace-Edison Research Poll.

The survey results put numbers to what we’ve been seeing and experiencing anecdotally: The COVID-19 pandemic has acutely impacted our personal finances, leaving many wondering how to pay basic living expenses amid unemployment, lost income and personal tragedy.

“The main theme of the survey is fear,” said Larry Rosin, president and co-founder of Edison Research, in an interview with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio.

Rosin pointed to the single-largest jump in the Economic Anxiety Index® since we began the measurement of economic anxiety in 2015. Since our last survey in May 2019, economic anxiety increased for nearly all demographic groups, except for those making less than $25,000 per year.

The result is sweeping financial precarity for large swaths of the country and uncertainty about how monthly bills will get paid. Fifty-four percent of homeowners and 62% of renters are at least a little fearful that they won’t be able to make their regular payments.

Many Americans are experiencing varying levels of food insecurity, and more than half of those who make less than $50,000 per year are at least a little concerned about their ability to afford food or groceries.

“That’s a huge change over anything we’ve seen before,” Rosin said.

The spike in economic anxiety coincides with sweeping income loss: One-third of American households have lost income since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A quarter of Americans currently working have experienced a pay cut and 36% are working fewer hours. Seventeen percent are currently unemployed.

Despite expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, many people are having a hard time actually getting their hands on the money. Sixty-three percent of those who have tried to file for unemployment said it was very or somewhat difficult. More than a third were ultimately unsuccessful in filing.

“It’s troubling that we have so many people in need, and they turn to the states who have these systems set up to help them, and almost two in every three are saying that it’s a difficult process,” Rosin said.

And with job loss often comes loss of health insurance, which many Americans are now experiencing during a pandemic.

“We have a health care system that’s largely predicated on being employed. And we have a large number of people who now say they’ve become unemployed or were furloughed in just the last few weeks,” Rosin said.

“And so the number of people who say that they have deep fears of an unexpected medical expense is very, very high.”

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

Check out the full poll results here and here, and read more about our methodology below: 

The Marketplace-Edison Research Survey is a national survey of Americans 18 and older. A total of 1,018 respondents were interviewed, with 500 interviews conducted by telephone and 518 interviews conducted online. The interviews were conducted from April 23-28, 2020.

The data was weighted to match the most recent United States population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau for age, gender, race, income and region of the country.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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