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WASHINGTON – As unemployment numbers continue to rise during the coronavirus pandemic, Americans’ perceptions of the economy are worsening and almost a quarter say they’ve had difficulty paying rent or their mortgage, according to a new survey.
Sixty-five percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse – a 40-percentage-point jump from four weeks earlier, when 25% said it was getting worse, according to the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project with USA TODAY.
In the four weeks between surveys, the economy ground to a near-halt as much of the country was put under stay-at-home orders and nonessential businesses were forced to close. Since then, millions of people have been laid off or furloughed. The Labor Department reported Thursday that about 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time in the previous week, bringing the three-week total to more than 17 million.
The percentage of people who say the economy is getting better dropped, from 37% to 19%, according to the survey. The Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project, with USA TODAY, is a large-scale study of the American electorate. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the researchers aim to conduct 500,000 interviews about policies and the presidential candidates.
Robert Griffin, research director for the Voter Study Group, said the survey shows “some early signs of what’s coming … beyond just sort of the unemployment numbers.”
“There’s a really substantial number of folks who, even in the first couple of weeks of this, are getting hit pretty hard,” he said.
Economic perceptions since July 2019 remained steady, with no major drops until March of this year, Griffin said. He noted that “this is not a type of change that we see in American public opinion around something like that all that often.”
Broken down by partisan lines, Democrats, independents and Republicans all say the economy has worsened in the past several weeks.
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Among Democrats, only 9% say the economy is getting better, and a whopping 76% say it’s getting worse. Four weeks earlier, 17% of Democrats said the economy was getting better, and 39% said it was getting worse. Among independents, 9% say the economy is getting better – down from 23% four weeks ago. Sixty-nine percent of independents say the economy is getting worse, up 42 percentage points from the start of the month.
Republicans also had a large increase in the number who say the economy is getting worse. In the late March survey, 35% of Republicans say the economy is getting better, down 31 percentage points from earlier in the month. On the opposite end, 50% of Republicans say the economy is getting worse, up 43 percentage points from earlier in the month.
Griffin noted that despite living in a society that can seem hyper-partisan, many Americans are “reacting to the reality that’s occurring around them and correctly perceiving that things are trending in a particular direction.”
“In a world in which sometimes we’re kind of disconnected from reality as a result of our partisanship … it’s still the case that reality can set,” he said.
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Almost a quarter of Americans – 22% – say they’ve had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. In April 2018, the last time this question was asked by Democracy Fund’s VOTER survey, that number was only 12%.
Nearly double the number of Americans are having difficulty paying their student loans: 13% in March compared with 7% in April 2018. Fifteen percent of Americans say they had difficulty paying their car payments – more than double the 7% that said they had difficulty in April 2018.
Forty-two percent of Americans say they’ve experienced a drop in household income in the past 12 months. Comparatively, that number was at 25% in April 2018.
Those surveyed show more loss of income and jobs compared with roughly this same time two years ago.
Seventy percent of Americans say they are very or somewhat worried about their finances. That’s up 11 percentage points from a similar time period in April 2018, when 59% of Americans said they were very or somewhat worried about their finances in the past six months.
The number of those who say they lost their job in the past 12 months has doubled since April 2018. According to the survey in March, 18% say they lost their job, and 59% say they did not. Around the same time period two years ago, 7% said they had lost their job, and 64% said they had not; 29% said it was not applicable.
Those who say their spouse or partner lost their job also doubled. Fifteen percent of Americans say their spouse or partner lost their job. In April 2018, that number was 6%.
The survey of 6,430 people was conducted March 26 to April 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points. The earlier survey mentioned was conducted Feb. 27 to March 4 among 6,225 people, and it has a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points.
Central to the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the collapse of a once-vibrant economy is the now almost daily briefings hosted by President Donald Trump himself. (April 9)
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