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Farm laborers working in Greenfield, California. Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

Americans on shaky ground financially, speaking out more on racism, poll finds

Janet Nguyen Oct 15, 2020
Farm laborers working in Greenfield, California. Brent Stirton/Getty Images

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 Research Poll. 

Our latest survey looked at 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. 

The ongoing Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, which launched in September 2015, also includes an Economic Anxiety Index® that reveals how people feel about their personal financial situation. The higher that number, the more stressed they feel. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Anxiety Index has almost reached its highest-recorded level, ticking up to 35 in May of this year and 34 in October. In May 2019, it was at a record low of 28, showing how drastically the crisis has affected our sense of financial security in just the span of a year. The only other time the index has been higher was in October 2016, our last election cycle, when it reached 36.

“I think we just have big differences between how people see the last several years vs. how they see the last several months. As we picked up in May, it seems to really be continuing,” said Larry Rosin, president and co-founder of Edison Research. “The pandemic period, and all the uncertainties that it’s creating for people is just creating so much stress, so much uncertainty. And in many cases … causing them to lose sleep at night.”

The COVID-19 crisis has led to a major economic upheaval in the country, with the unemployment rate soaring to nearly 15% in April — the worst since the Great Depression. Many Americans have trouble making their rent, which has led to an eviction crisis, while thousands of businesses have shut down entirely

And amid the pandemic, protests against racism and police brutality have taken place across the country following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, back in May. These calls for justice have prompted some companies to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement and try to address racial equity within their own organizations

These major events potentially have huge ramifications for the 2020 election. Here were some of our findings:  

What Americans have trouble affording and their fears

Nearly half of all Americans, about 47%, say they would find it at least somewhat difficult to pay for an unexpected $250 expense — an increase from 41% in May 2020.

Black and Hispanic/Latinx respondents are more likely than white respondents to say that such an expense would be difficult to pay.

The poll also found that:

• One-third of Americans have less income now than before the pandemic. 

• More Americans are losing sleep over their personal financial situation, with a record high of 35% saying so. It was 32% in our poll this Spring, and 27% in Spring 2019

• 30% of Americans say they’ve tried to collect unemployment benefits, with half of them telling us they were not successful.

• In the past six months, 18% of renters have missed a payment on their rent, while 64% of Americans are at least “a little” fearful of being unable to pay their rent.

• In the past six months, 14% of mortgage holders have missed a payment on their mortgage, while 48% of Americans are at least “a little” fearful they will miss their mortgage payment.

• More than half of all Americans are fearful of losing their jobs, and just one-third are very confident they would find a new job should they lose their current job.

• 61% of Americans say they are at least “a little” fearful of facing an unexpected medical bill. 

• 72% of Americans who have student loans say they are at least “a little” fearful about being unable to make a student loan payment. 

The 2020 presidential election and voter attitudes 

More than half of Americans, about 55%, disapprove of the way Trump is handling the economy. This level is the highest it’s been in the five polls Marketplace-Edison has conducted during his presidency. Broken down by demographics, 50% of men and 59% of women disapprove, along with 48% of white Americans, 85% of Black Americans and 56% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans.

A majority of Americans, about 64%, say the U.S. economic system is rigged in favor of certain groups. While this sentiment has remained consistent since our poll first asked this question in 2016, there’s been a partisan shift. In 2016, 63% of Clinton supporters said the economy was rigged compared to 57% of Trump voters. But in our latest poll, 86% of Biden supporters say the economy is rigged compared to 33% of Trump voters. 

We’re also seeing a shift when it comes to trust in government economic data — 86% of Clinton supporters in 2016 at least somewhat trusted it, compared to 32% of Trump supporters. Now, at least 84% of Trump supporters at least somewhat trust it while 46% of Bidens supporters do.

When it comes to other voter issues, the poll found:

• 83% of Americans say they’re worried about COVID-19 at least “a little.” However, Biden supporters are more likely to say that they are “very worried,” at 71% compared to 29% of Trump supporters. 

• Three-quarters of Americans say they’re at least “a little” worried about the environment and climate change, although that concern is primarily driven by Biden supporters. 64% of Biden supporters are “very worried” compared to 19% of Trump supporters. 

• A majority of Americans (68%) are confident their votes will be counted accurately, with 66% of Trump supporters and 74% of Biden supporters feeling that way. 

Race and equity

Two-thirds of Americans, overall, say they think race relations in the U.S. are at least somewhat bad, compared to about 77% of Black respondents. 

Roughly half of Americans say that Black workers are typically paid less than white workers doing the same job. But broken down by race, 76% of Black Americans say this is the case, compared to 41% of white Americans and about 48% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans. Broken down by voting preferences, 70% of Biden voters say this is the case, compared to about 14% of Trump voters.  

When it comes to employment and race issues, the poll found:

• 34% of respondents say their employer has “taken any action regarding issues related to race” in the past six months, while 66% say their employer has not.

• 27% of Americans say they’ve spoken up about racial equity issues at any of the places they’ve worked at, while a majority of Americans, about 72%, say they have not. People in the 25-34 age bracket are more likely to have spoken up compared to any other age range, with 37% of respondents doing so. Black Americans are more likely to have compared to any other race/ethnicity at 34%, while about 33% of Biden voters have spoken up compared to about 23% of Trump voters. 

• Of those who have spoken up at work, almost half of them have done so within the past six months. Broken out by demographics, 44% of white Americans, 41% of Black Americans and 43% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans have done so since April. 

• Six 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.

The poll found that 1 in 5 workers say they’ve experienced job discrimination based on their race. And a majority of Americans said that the U.S. economic system is rigged in favor of certain groups, with 81% of Black Americans saying so, compared to 61% of white Americans and 65% of Hispanic/Latinx Americans.  

Parenting and education during the pandemic

Almost a third of parents with children attending school partially or completely online have had to cut back on work hours to help their child with school. About 63% of women say they’re primarily responsible for helping their kids with online school compared to 29% of men.

The poll also found that when it comes to work and childcare:

• 19% of parents say they’ve quit their jobs or taken a leave of absence to help their children with school. 

• 27% of parents say their child is currently learning completely in-person, 49% say they’re learning completely online remote, while 24% say it’s a mix of in-person and online remote learning.

• 13% of parents say they’re paying for additional help with childcare or tutoring. 

Productivity and flexibility

• 27% percent of Americans say that their employer has made them feel as if they haven’t been productive enough since the COVID-19 pandemic began. These figures are the highest for younger age brackets, with 35% of those ages 18-34 feeling this way. Meanwhile, about 34% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents feel this way compared to 26% of white workers and 24% of Black workers.

• Only a quarter, about 26%, of respondents say that their employer has given them additional paid time off. Broken down by region, those who live in the Midwest were the smallest percentage to have received it, with 16% saying they got extra PTO, while those who live in the West were the highest percentage at about 39%.

• However, a majority of respondents, about 57%, said that their employer has allowed them more flexibility around their schedules.

• 11% of Americans say they’ve moved or permanently relocated in the past six months, while 16% say they’re considering it within the next six months. Of those who have moved or are planning to move, 47% say it’s because they have the flexibility to work anywhere, 39% say it’s because their rent or mortgage is too expensive, 32% say it’s to move away from an area impacted by COVID-19, and 28% say it’s because they’ve lost their job or income. 

Check out the full poll results 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 1,647 respondents were interviewed, with 725 interviews conducted by telephone and 922 interviews conducted online. The interviews were conducted from Sept. 25 through Oct. 8, 2020 in both English and Spanish. For purposes of analysis, respondents who identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino were oversampled and then weighted back to their proper proportion of all adults.  

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.

Asian-Americans are included and represented in the poll findings, but we did not oversample in a way that would allow us to analyze this group discretely. 

Editor’s note: While our poll asked respondents to identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, we’ve changed the language here to Latinx to reflect Marketplace’s editorial guidelines. 

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