- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2020

The congressional relief package finalized Friday appears to have moved the needle slightly positively among Americans when asked whether they have lost or would lose wages during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as nearly half say they are unable to work from home, according to a new survey from an online financial service.

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

Before 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.

The survey saw a less positive move in the employment landscape. On the 25th, 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 thought 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 continue on a take-out or delivery basis, but that would only let them stay open with a skeletal crew compared to their pre-coronavirus workforce. Other businesses, such as movie theaters, most retail stores and others have been shuttered or reduced to drive-by status in which small numbers of workers hand out preordered, prepaid items.

In the survey, 47% said they are unable to perform their job from home, a major contributor to the shaky feelings about employment going forward, 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, a number that showed little change on March 25, Mr. Milnes said. The same majority — 57% — predicted the emergency would last 8 weeks or less.

In terms of consumer spending, 45% 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 — 33% — said the bug 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 different 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, which first infected humans in Wuhan, China, last year before marching across the planet. 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 this unanticipated and undesirable downtime — 18.4% to 4.5%. The single biggest way Americans said they are passing the time was predictably watching TV at 37.5%.

“The cleaning one, that really surprised me,” Ms. Adler said.

It remains to be seen, they noted, if the U.S. may see a surge in birthrates at the end of 2020 similar to what New York City experienced after suffering a blackout in 1977.

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