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
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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
Share Now on:
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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

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

Which states are reopening?

Many states have started to relax the restrictions put in place in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although social-distancing measures still hold virtually everywhere in the country, more than half of states have started to phase out stay-at-home orders and phase in business reopenings. Others, like New York, are on slower timelines.

Is it worth applying for a job right now?

It never hurts to look, but as unemployment reaches levels last seen during the Great Depression and most available jobs are in places that carry risks like the supermarket or warehouses, it isn’t a bad idea to sit tight either, if you can.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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