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Americans pick public health over the economy—even with near-record unemployment.

Apr 27, 2020
3 MIN. READ

Editor’s Note (4/27/2020): This article was updated to include findings from our research into how COVID-19 has impacted American lifestyles. The new information, shared below, examines the effect the pandemic has had on working parents and their ability to feed their families. Learn more about the COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults.

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Americans who have lost their jobs or had their working hours reduced are finding it difficult to feed their families.

While a majority of Americans have had little or no difficulty feeding their household adequately (76%), households that have been financially impacted by a job loss or reduced work hours are reporting greater difficulty. The graphic below highlights the differences.

Americans having difficulty feeding their households during COVID-19 pandemic

Americans face near-record numbers of unemployment and reduced work hours.

At the time this data was collected (March 2020), 27 states, and Washington, D.C., had issued stay-at-home or equivalent orders, with an additional eight states issuing varying degrees of non-essential business closures or restrictions on public gatherings. The closure of non-essential businesses has had a significant impact on American employment status, with the Department of Labor reporting over 6 million unemployment insurance claims filed in the week ending April 4, 2020.

  • 43% of respondents who reported being employed full-time or part-time at the beginning of 2020 indicated that they were laid off permanently, temporarily furloughed, or had hours reduced as a result of COVID-19.
  • Full-time and part-time employees feel the impacts differently:
    • Those employed part-time were much more likely to be laid off temporarily or permanently by the end of March (32%) due to COVID-19 compared to those who worked full-time (17%).
    • Similarly, part-time workers were more likely to have their work hours reduced (40%) compared to full-time employees (25%).
    • The graphic below highlights additional employment status differences between full-time and part-time employees.
Change in job status for part-time vs. full-time workers under COVID-19

Over a quarter of Americans say it is likely that they will not be able to pay for housing and utilities in the next three months.

Many Americans believe it likely that there may be changes to their future employment status. In addition, over a quarter of Americans state that they are likely or extremely likely to face financial hardship in terms of paying rent/mortgage or utility bills in full.

In the next three months:

  • 12% of Americans reported they were likely to lose a job or be involuntarily terminated.
  • 20% of Americans reported they were likely to be furloughed or temporarily laid off.
  • 30% of Americans reported they were likely to have their work hours reduced.
  • 27% of Americans reported they were likely to not be able to pay the full amount of the rent or mortgage.
  • 27% of Americans reported they were likely to not be able to pay the full amount of their utility bill(s).
Americans unlikely to pay rent/mortgage or utility bills in full within the next 3 months

Respondents overwhelmingly choose public health over economy despite immediate and longer-term impacts to personal employment.

The near-record levels of unemployment, reduced hours, and business closures have had a substantial impact on the economy. But despite this, nearly 4 in 5 Americans (79%) reported that public health benefits are more important than economic costs. Respondents who suffered a job loss were even more likely to choose public health benefits over economic costs. Interestingly, Americans who reported losing their jobs (permanently and temporarily) were more likely to state that public health benefits are more important than economic costs.

  • 84% of respondents who were laid off permanently or temporarily indicated that public health benefits are somewhat or much more important than economic costs.
  • 34% of all respondents said that non-essential businesses should remain closed as long as necessary to assure public health. Only 19% of respondents want the government to allow non-essential businesses to reopen immediately or within the next two weeks.
Public health benefits vs. economic costs of closing non-essential businesses

Watch this space

How will public perception change as exposure to the novel coronavirus increases? How might increasing economic concerns influence the way people feel about the importance of public health measures from week to week? We will continue to share key findings from our data collection efforts over the coming weeks and encourage public health officials to bear this information in mind as you shape your response to COVID-19. Sign up to receive alerts as we roll out upcoming results and package our insights into reports. Next up, insights into how the pandemic is impacting the lifestyle of Americans.

Read other insights in the COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults series.

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