Even as stay-at-home orders were extended in April, Americans continued to favor public health over the economy.

May 21, 2020

Editor’s Note (5/20/2020): This article includes findings from our second wave of data collection that fielded April 14 through April 22. This second wave collected another 1,000 completes using a census-balanced, national non-probability sample. The new information, shared below, examines American perceptions of public health and the economy—and what has changed since our first wave of data collection at the end of March. Learn more about the ICF COVID-19 Monitor Survey of U.S. Adults.

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Like the rest of the world, the United States is attempting to balance high-stakes economic and public health interests during this unprecedented pandemic. When we first surveyed Americans at the end of March, they favored public health over the economy. But as the unemployment rate rose to nearly 15 percent in April, we were curious to discover if priorities had shifted. The findings detailed below reveal some surprises—and show that public health remains a top concern, even amidst a bleak economic backdrop.

Permanent and temporary layoffs increased.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed persons rose by 15.9 million in April. Similarly, we found an increase in the proportion of Americans who reported being laid off (permanently or temporarily) due to COVID-19 in April compared to March.

More Americans laid off in April than March due to COVID-19

Public health concerns still outweighed economic ones—American sentiment changed very little in April.

In March, an overwhelming 79% of Americans reported that public health benefits were either somewhat or much more important than the economic costs. In April, this percentage remained relatively unchanged at 78%.

For Americans, public health still trumps the economy

In April, Americans were in no greater rush to reopen non-essential businesses.

Despite being in the second month of lockdown, Americans were not clamoring to see non-essential businesses reopen in April. In a further sign that Americans were more concerned about public health than the economy, support for keeping non-essential businesses closed for a month or longer—or until public health can be assured—was 63%, staying essentially unchanged in April compared to March.

Most Americans support keeping non-essential businesses closed for a month or longer to assure public health

Watch this space

How will public perception change as the pandemic continues? How will American views of public health and the economy be impacted by the reopening of non-essential businesses in some states? We will continue to report key findings from our ongoing data collection efforts over the coming weeks and share this information with public health officials in support of their response to COVID-19.

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

Meet the authors
  1. John Boyle, Senior Advisor, Survey Research

    John is a research expert with more than 30 years of experience in the design, execution, analysis, and reporting of large-scale health surveys. View bio

  2. Thomas Brassell, Portfolio Director, Survey Research

    Thomas Brassell is a survey research expert with more than 10 years of experience designing and executing complex survey research studies on behalf of federal, state, and local government agencies. 

     View bio

  3. James Dayton, Senior Vice President, Survey Research

    James is a survey research expert with more than 30 years of experience helping clients strategize, design, execute, and analyze large-scale health, environment, and transportation surveys. View bio

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