40 percent of Mass. residents expecting financial hardships
Pandemic toll hitting hardest at those on lower economic rungs
OVER THE COURSE of just a few weeks in March, the markets set records for crashes, unemployment claims shattered records for increases, and economic activity the world over slowed to a grinding crawl. Here in Massachusetts, the slow motion economy has caused massive job and wage losses, as people stay home and businesses close their doors. In the next month, residents anticipate rapidly escalating financial challenges, according to a new survey released today.
Within the next month, 25 percent of residents say they will face serious financial hardship. Another 15 percent see problems the month after that. Few forecasts anticipate a widespread reactivation of our economy in that timeframe, with cases still growing rapidly. Indeed, even most residents anticipate months of challenges ahead, with 76 percent expecting at least a month or two of disruptions. The coming weeks and months will prove a major test of the Massachusetts residents’ and leaders’ resolve.
Economic impacts across the state
All of these groups were already feeling less benefit of the economic boom, and this current crisis is exacerbating the divides. The divide is made more severe by the fact that some jobs can be done remotely, while other employers are eliminating jobs or cutting pay. Among part-time workers, 52 percent report wage losses, twice the rate of full time workers (26 percent). Similarly, 38 percent of hourly workers say they have lost a portion of their paycheck, compared to 24 percent of salaried employees.
These figures are mirror opposites of the 61 percent who report remote work. While 75 percent of salaried workers report working remotely, just 47 percent of hourly workers say the same. This is echoed in income levels, where 77 percent of those with household incomes over $150,000 say they have worked remotely, compared to 46 percent of those with incomes under $50,000.
Despite the looming economic crisis, residents across the state are standing strong, and personal difficulties are not driving people to call for loosening restrictions. A recent Boston Globe poll echoed our own findings, showing residents bracing themselves for what’s ahead. In our poll, the vast majority either support the response so far (60 percent), or even said the measures could go further (28 percent). Those who have lost jobs or wages are similarly resolute in their support.
Doing their part to flatten the curve
Large majorities began taking actions almost immediately when the crisis began, including reducing physical contact and increasing social distance. The prevalence of these actions has increased even over the last two weeks as societal norms are rapidly reshaped. Now, 85 percent say they have canceled social plans, and 96 percent report visiting either nobody or just a few people. When they do see each other, 92 percent avoid physical greetings like handshakes or hugs. Shopping trips are also increasingly rare, with 86 percent now saying they are shopping either not at all or only if it is essential.
Personal hygiene habits have also changed dramatically, with 91 percent reporting washing their hands more, and 83 percent cleaning common surfaces more. Both figures have risen further in the last two weeks. While these actions may now seem common sense in the face of the threat coronavirus poses, it is still remarkable to witness such a massive cultural and societal shift over such a very brief time period.
Taking the threat seriously
Most (72 percent) still see the threat posed to the state growing more serious rather than less (3 percent). This is reflected in residents’ views on the threat to various groups. Now, 68 percent say the outbreak poses a “very serious” threat to people across Massachusetts, and another 27 percent see the threat as “somewhat serious. The perception of a “very serious” threat has grown over each survey wave.
It’s not just an abstract fear either. About half (48 percent) see the virus as a very serious threat to them personally, with another 30 percent calling it “somewhat serious.” Residents are also concerned with people in their city or town.
The biggest concerns are saved for the elderly. Here, too, public understanding of the specific threat of coronavirus is near universal. Since two weeks ago, nearly all residents have understood the increased danger to older residents, with almost 100 percent calling the threat at least “somewhat serious” in each wave.
As the state responds to the physical threat, economic challenges loom larger with each passing day and week. With residents anticipating major financial difficulties in the weeks and months ahead, the parallel crises will test residents and leaders across the state.
Steve Koczela is president of the MassINC Polling Group.