COVID’s financial toll: 38 million Americans are now worse off

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy: the United States has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, just before COVID-19 struck.

Overall, the Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll found that 52 percent of Americans were able to save money for most of the past three months, while 37 percent broke even and 10 percent were short on paying bills [File: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]
Overall, the Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll found that 52 percent of Americans were able to save money for most of the past three months, while 37 percent broke even and 10 percent were short on paying bills [File: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]

While most Americans have weathered the coronavirus pandemic financially, about 38 million say they are worse off now than before the outbreak began in the United States.

Overall, 55 percent of Americans say their financial circumstances are about the same now as a year ago, and 30 percent say their finances have improved, according to a new poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But 15 percent of respondents say they are worse off.

The problem is more pronounced at lower income levels: 29 percent of Americans living below the federal poverty line say their personal finances worsened in the past year. Roughly that many also find themselves in a deepening financial hole, saying they struggled to pay bills in the past three months.

Britney Frick, 27, is among those whose finances have taken a hit. She worked as a substitute teacher before the pandemic, but her role was eliminated. Initially, she found a telecommunications job that allowed her to work from home, but the hours began to dwindle then dried up altogether.

The latest US government payments were sent out beginning last month, and on average, households say they are using, or plan to use,  about one-third of the money to pay down debt, about 25 percent on spending and the rest for savings, according to a report released last week by the New York Federal Reserve [File: David Zalubowski/AP]
Frick ended up unemployed for six months but was able to get by using her savings, reduced rent and help from her parents.

“I am slowly getting back on my feet but am nowhere near where I was before COVID,” she said.

Frick got a job at a daycare centre in March, and the steady work is helping her rebuild her financial picture.

“I am still living paycheque to paycheque, but at least the paycheque is covering the bills,” she said. “But I am happy to be back at work, honestly, and happy that things are kind of returning to normal.”

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy: the United States still has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, just before COVID-19 struck.

The government has in response passed three major relief bills, which included direct economic relief payments to individuals. That has helped ease the suffering of some.

The government payments — $1,400 to individuals — were sent out beginning last month. Households, on average, are using, or plan to use, about one-third of the money to pay down debt, about 25 percent on spending and the rest for savings, according to a report released last week by the New York Federal Reserve. That closely mirrored spending of prior relief payments.

Overall, the Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll found 52 percent of Americans say they were able to save money for most of the past three months, while 37 percent broke even and 10 percent were short on paying bills. Among Americans living below the poverty line, 29 percent say they struggled to pay bills recently, while just 16 percent have saved.

By comparison, 61 percent of those living far above the poverty line say they have been able to save.

There also are wide racial disparities, with 57 percent of white Americans, 47 percent of Hispanics and just 39 percent of Black Americans saying they have saved recently. Black and Hispanic Americans are about twice as likely as white Americans to say they have come up short on bill payments.

Some 29 percent of Americans living below the federal poverty line say their personal finances worsened in the past year, and roughly that many also find themselves in a deepening financial hole, saying they struggled to pay bills in the past three months [File: Damian Dovarganes/AP]
Andrew Holland said his family’s finances were fairly steady for most of the pandemic. The California resident worked as a hospice nurse and case manager and his wife kept her job with a refinery. But the stress and isolation of the pandemic led him to reconsider his work.

Unlike before the pandemic, he had no in-person interaction with colleagues or friends to relieve some of the pressure of his job. So he quit and found a new job in hospice care with fewer hours. His wife also got a new job with better pay.

While their family finances took a temporary hit and they spent some savings, he expects to recover. Holland and his wife have started tracking their spending more closely and are now planning for an earlier retirement.

“This really made me look at what do I want to do and when do I want to do it,” Holland, 35, said. “I feel incredibly lucky that the worst that happened is I lost a month’s of wages and got a job with fewer hours.”

The poll found many Americans — nearly a third — had not had investment or similar long-term savings accounts set up even before the pandemic. Another 19 percent say they have been able to add more to investments like a 401(k) or a college savings plan, and 38 percent say the amount hasn’t changed compared to last year.

Holland said he is disheartened by the inequality of how the pandemic has played out for people and is concerned the imbalance will never be corrected.

“I am glad that it gave me the push to look at my finances and plan a little bit more for the future,” he said. “I definitely wish it had come at a much lower cost for the world as a whole.”

Source: AP

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