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.

The survey was the latest wave of an ongoing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts/MassINC coronavirus tracking poll.

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

Impacts are already piling up, with 16 percent of residents reporting having lost a job, and 38 percent of those still employed saying they have lost a portion of their paycheck. The coronavirus crisis is taking aim at the state’s most economically vulnerable residents, with job and wage losses concentrated among lower-income households, part-time and hourly workers, and people with less education. These are the same groups that anticipate financial difficulties in the immediate future.

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 

While facing very uncertain economic futures, residents are doing their own part in the battle against coronavirus. The poll finds near universal understanding and action across a range of measures. Part of this is due to the remarkably effective public information campaign being waged, which has left no ambiguity about the key steps to fight the spread. Now, 97 percent say they understand the steps necessary to slow the outbreak very (86 percent) or somewhat well (11 percent).

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.

Meet the Author

Steve Koczela

President, MassINC Polling Group

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.