- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2020

The congressional relief package finalized Friday appears to have slightly eased Americans’ worries about lost wages during the coronavirus emergency, according to a new survey from an online financial service.

MoneyGeek surveyed 1,257 Americans nationwide between March 22 and 25, with 36% of those surveys completed on the day the Senate and White House announced they had agreed on a $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

Prior to March 25, MoneyGeek that “54% who are currently employed have lost or expect to lose wages due to the coronavirus.” That number dropped to 49% among those surveyed on the 25th, said Doug Milnes, one of the survey’s two creators.

A slightly less positive move was seen in the employment landscape. On March 25, 35.6% felt it was ” ‘very likely’ or ‘completely likely’ that they will lose their employment in the next 12 weeks,” compared to 37.9% who felt so before that date.

“I think a good way to put it is there was a small improvement in outlook from the time we started fielding on the survey to the time we finished,” Mr. Milnes said. “When you see so many people worried about missing payments or losing their jobs it just brings home the impact of all this.”

The survey results underscored the deep economic shock the virus and its concomitant business shutdowns have delivered. As of Friday, 22 states had issued “shelter at home” rules which have largely closed businesses not deemed “essential” by government and politicians.

Some businesses, such as restaurants, have managed to stay open on a takeout or delivery basis, but that means they are staying open with skeletal crews. Other businesses, such as movie theaters, entertainment venues and nonessential retailers have been shuttered or reduced to drive-by status in which small numbers of workers hand out preordered, prepaid items.

In the survey, 47 percent said they are unable to perform their job, a heavy contributor to the shaky feelings about employment prospects, said Hillary Adler, who partnered with Mr. Milnes on the project.

Despite the grim outlook, 57% of those surveyed said they expected to be able to pay their bills, although it was not clear if that amount will hold. Most of those polled, 57%, predicted the emergency would last eight weeks or less.

In terms of consumer spending, 47% said they had put off making a purchase, with an additional 23% saying they expected to start delaying purchases soon. Slightly less than one-third — 32.5% — said the disease has not had an impact on their spending.

The median amount Americans reported spending to stock up on coronavirus supplies was $150, although a handful said they had spent $600 or more.

While representatives from all 50 states were included, MoneyGeek said the sample size was too small to draw clear conclusions about regional patterns. Answers tended to be the same among men and women, Mr. Milnes and Ms. Adler told The Washington Times.

Not every part of the country is on the same timeline in terms of coping with the virus. Washington state, for example, was hard hit by the virus in early March, but its experiences have since been eclipsed by more populous states such as New York and California.

One finding that surprised both Ms. Adler and Mr. Milnes was that more than four times the percentage of Americans said they would clean as opposed to “working out” during their unanticipated downtime — 18.4% to 4.5%. The single biggest way Americans said they are passing the time was, predictably, watching TV at 37.5%.

It remains to be seen, they noted, if the U.S. will see a surge in birthrates at the end of 2020 similar to that New York City experienced after suffering a blackout in 1997.

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