With all but a few states having implemented stay-at-home orders, and even those without orders forcing the closure of non-essential businesses, the vast majority of Americans are adjusting to a new normal. Policymakers stress that, without effective anti-COVID drug therapies or a vaccine, social distancing is the best tool to combat the virus. A decline in new COVID hospitalizations over the past couple of days in New York City provides hope that social distancing is working — but at steep social, psychological, and economic costs.
Despite these costs, Americans seem to be largely supportive of social distancing measures. At the same time, they are acutely aware of the financial and emotional toll the virus is having on their lives. According to a new survey by the Strada Education Network, 61 percent of respondents employed full- or part-time, as well as those looking for work, have lost jobs or had hours cut due to the coronavirus. Of those still on the job, 70 percent are either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” worried they will be unemployed in the future, a 13 percentage point increase from the week before. When asked how they were feeling during this time, the leading responses were “concerned” (62 percent), “worried” (56 percent), and “cautious” (53 percent), with nearly 50 percent expecting current circumstances to have a negative effect on their mental health.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the percentage of workers worried about losing their job holds across education levels: high school or less (69 percent), some college but no degree (63 percent), associate or vocational (75 percent), and bachelor’s or higher (70 percent). (Note: Recent reports from the US Department of Labor indicate that those with less education are more subject to layoffs than those with bachelors’ degree or higher.) About one-third feel they would need more education or training to maintain a comparable level of income to the job they lost. Thankfully, almost two-thirds of respondents feeling this way say they would know where to go to get that new credential or knowledge, with over half seeking it through an online platform.
The public is, for now, supportive of the effort to limit the spread of COVID even at considerable economic and emotional cost to individuals and families, but it is clear Americans of every stripe are worried. This support may not be sustainable for a prolonged period as rates of infection decline and economic and psychological pressures grow. Government, business, and workers need to begin planning for how the return to work will be staged and implemented. Unlike the pre-pandemic planning, restart planning should begin now, not later.
This article by Brent Orrell first appeared in AEIdeas on April 4, 2020.