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Economic Anxiety Index®

Here’s how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Americans’ paychecks and working hours

Janet Nguyen May 5, 2020
An employee cleaning tables at a business in Franklin, Tennessee. Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

Here’s how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Americans’ paychecks and working hours

Janet Nguyen May 5, 2020
An employee cleaning tables at a business in Franklin, Tennessee. Jason Kempin/Getty Images

More than one-third of households have lost income since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to the latest results from our ongoing Marketplace-Edison Research Poll.

Our latest survey, conducted at the end of April, looks at how Americans are dealing with the crippling unemployment rate and the economic uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 crisis. (Read more about our methodology below.)  

The poll, which launched in September 2015, includes an Economic Anxiety Index® that gauges how people feel about their personal financial situation. The higher the number, the more stressed you are. 

In our latest round of results, the Economic Anxiety Index® saw the highest survey-to-survey spike since the series began. It had steadily dropped since 2017, reaching a record low of 28 in May 2019, and has now jumped to a near high of 35.

We examined how the pandemic has affected American’s paychecks, their ability to pay household expenses and how they think President Donald Trump is handling the current economic crisis. Here are some of our key findings: 

Employment and income 

More than 32% of households say they’ve lost income since the pandemic began. About 26% of Americans who are currently working say they’ve experienced a paycut, while 36% are working fewer hours. 

For those who are able to work from home, there are disparities depending on the level of education they’ve attained. About 71% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are now working from home compared to 32% of those without a bachelor’s degree. 

About 26% of those with a high school education or less say they can work from home, compared to almost 80% of those with postgraduate degrees. 

About 69% of the American workforce is either unemployed or fears losing their jobs in the next 12 months, a massive shift from just a few months ago. In September, the unemployment rate had ticked down to 3.5% — a 50-year low. Nearly a quarter of Americans are not at all confident that they would find a new job within six months if they were to lose their current job. (That’s more than double since last year.)

And for those who have been laid off or furloughed, applying for unemployment benefits has been challenging, with business owners telling Marketplace the application process has been confusing

Since the pandemic began forcing businesses to close six weeks ago, a record 30 million Americans have applied for state jobless benefits. More than one-third of Americans in our poll who have applied for unemployment say they have unsuccessfully been able to file for benefits. 

Paying the bills

As the unemployment rate reaches record highs, 41% of Americans say they could not pay an unexpected $250 expense, while 59% could not pay an unexpected $1,000 expense. 

About 44% of Americans who are 18 years old and over say they’re afraid they will be unable to afford food or groceries. More than half of Americans are also afraid of a break in the food supply chain — several food processing plants have closed after becoming hot spots for COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, more than half of homeowners with a mortgage are afraid they will be unable to make a payment, up dramatically from last year. The median monthly mortgage payment for U.S. homeowners is $1,100, according to the latest American Housing Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

To close or open?

Just under half of Americans, or 48%, approve of the way President Donald Trump is handling the economy, according to the Marketplace-Edison Research Poll. Trump has been pushing for businesses to reopen, while at the same time saying that the death toll could reach 100,000

No state that’s planning to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a two-week period, NBC News wrote. However, more than half of states are moving forward with plans to get businesses up and running again. States like Georgia and Texas have already started to ease restrictions and allowed some businesses to resume operations, while California plans to this week and New York is allowing its upstate region to reopen, possibly after May 15

About 81% of Democrats in our poll say that continuing to stay home is more important than reopening the economy, while Republicans are split on the issue. Forty-seven percent of Republicans say it’s more important to stay home, while 52% say it’s more important to reopen the economy. 

Sixty-five percent of independents say the U.S. should continue stay-at-home orders, while 30% of independents are in favor of relaxing them and reopening the economy.

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

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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