Psychological, economic toll piling up
Poll shows growing strain of pandemic on Mass. residents
A PERFECT STORM of economic, social, and political crises brought on by coronavirus are battering Massachusetts residents. The economic devastation is spreading, with 20 percent reporting losing a job since the crisis began, and a third of those still employed losing a portion of their paycheck. The worst of the damage is among those with the least to lose, with lower income, hourly, and part time workers reporting the greatest setbacks. But as time goes on, the slowly spinning economic hurricane is flattening ever widening circles of workers and businesses. Even among those with household incomes over $150,000 a year, 14 percent now report losing a job, up from just 6 percent in the survey wave from just two weeks ago.
That’s according to the fourth and final wave of a MassINC/Blue Cross Blue Shield coronavirus tracking poll. This wave was conducted March 30 to April 5, 2020.
Adding to the challenge of everyday life is the deluge of coronavirus news which provides little respite from the economic challenges. Residents report adjusting their lives in many ways in recent weeks, but none is more common than watching and reading more news than before. In all, 64 percent report watching more news now than before the crisis began and another 30 percent say they are watching the same amount. Nearly all are following coronavirus news either very (72 percent) or somewhat closely (21 percent), making it the most closely watched news story we have ever explored in a Massachusetts poll.
Residents do not yet see the end of the storm approaching. In fact, weeks into the crisis, Massachusetts residents’ concerns about coronavirus continues to rise, with the highest number yet saying the threat is getting more serious (73 percent) rather than less (2 percent). This survey wave also found record numbers of residents calling the threat “very serious” to people across the state (72 percent), people in their city or town (59 percent), and them personally (54 percent).
While dealing with economic upheaval and the pandemic itself, residents are finding new daily rhythms. While news consumption, social media, and watching TV both saw big increases, other changes to day to day life are also widespread. Many report staying in touch with their family more (58 percent), and preparing their own meals more often (45 percent). Somewhat fewer report baking or reading books more often, though they have each increased on balance.
Exercise is emerging as a serious challenge, which is likely to bring health challenges of its own. Facing the possibility of months in this altered reality, 36 percent of residents say they are exercising less, while just 20 percent report an increase. When it comes to spending time outside, there has been an even sharper drop off, with 46 percent saying they are getting out less than before.
This is perhaps a necessary byproduct of social distancing, which Massachusetts residents are embracing. Even so, recreation and exercise serve an antidote to depression and physical health issues, and many residents are struggling to get enough. Both are far bigger issues in urban areas, where 68 percent report less outdoor time, and 48 percent say they are now exercising less.
For many, staying at home means new models of education and childcare. Even while facing the many other challenges of staying home, school continues for K-12 children. Several weeks into schools moving online, 90 percent of parents report getting assignments from their children’s schools, and 75 percent report that someone in the household is helping the kids keep up with their work.Despite massive economic and personal upheaval, residents are standing firm, with 64 percent saying the response has been about right, and another 28 percent saying it could go further still. They also recognize it is not a quick battle, with 33 percent expecting a month or two of disruption, and another 50 percent saying it will go on even longer.
While the health and logistical challenge of the pandemic may be the most visible and immediate, residents’ personal and economic challenges are growing too. Finding a new and healthy equilibrium will help ensure residents don’t emerge from the stay at home period with a whole new slate of challenges.