As COVID surges again, consumers and workers are worn out but resilient
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On top of the loss and grief the pandemic has already caused, we’re now confronting a record surge of new infections: Well over than 250,000 cases a day on average over the past seven days, according to data from John Hopkins University.
That eclipses the previous record set last January. The curve points steeply upward, which means we’re about to enter the third year of the pandemic with no end in sight. What sort of impact is that news likely to have on consumers and workers?
“Psychologically, we are definitely at a low point. And people just tell us in surveys they are tired, they’ve just had enough of it,” said consumer psychologist Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago.
This is partially about how long the pandemic’s gone on, but even more important “is how long we still expect it to be,” Fishbach said. “We are chasing this moving target, feel like we are not making progress — and are maybe are even going back.”
This negativity and fear of the unpredictable isn’t leading to negative or fearful economic behavior. Repeated COVID waves haven’t reversed the recovery of jobs and consumer spending. Americans have also gotten more resilient, according to John Leer, chief economist at polling firm Morning Consult.
“While there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future of the virus holds, consumers and workers — they’re growing more confident in the ability of this economy to chug along in the face of rising cases,” Leer said.
Though omicron is surging, layoffs are not. In fact, the job market’s rarely been better.
Carl Van Horn, a professor at Rutgers University, said that when he surveyed workers during the Great Recession, back in August 2010, 7% of respondents said it was “a good time to get a job. In late November of ’21, 76% said that was a good time to get a job. OK? I mean, that’s an enormous change,” Van Horn said.
Workers have unprecedented leverage to change jobs, quit and get new jobs, he added. But for some, there’s also unprecedented burn-out — especially health care workers on the front lines, still caring for the sick and dying.
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