Many Expect to Get Back on Track, But in a ‘New Normal’ Post-Covid

Vacation plans slashed for this summer

Many Americans remain out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the expectation for most is that a new normal is just around the corner. The vast majority in a Monmouth University Poll feel confident about their own financial stability, but there has been a slight dip in confidence that the country can rein in the pandemic’s impact in the coming weeks. Most expect they will have to make permanent changes in how they interact with other people because of it. Other poll results show that the number of families with summer vacation plans has more than halved due to the outbreak.

Currently, 50% of Americans report the outbreak has had a major impact on their daily lives, which is down from 56% in May and 62% in April and is even lower than 53% who said the same in late March. Another 35% say the outbreak has had a minor impact and just 15% say it has had no real impact. The drop in FEELING a major impact is due to a change in opinion among Republicans (30% now, compared with 43% in May, 55% in April and 40% in March) and independents (51% now, compared with 61% in May, 64% in April and 57% in March), while this view has held fairly steady among Democrats (65% now, compared with 62% in May, 66% in April and 61% in March).

Three in ten (29%) Americans report that someone in their household has been laid off from work because of the outbreak, which is virtually unchanged from prior polls (31% in May and 30% in April). Overall, 35% of the public reports losing income due to a decrease in work during the pandemic. This finding is down slightly from May (40%) and April (41%) and is identical to March (35%). Just over 1 in 5 (21%) report struggling to pay their bills, which is similar to past polls (23% in May and 22% in April – this question was not asked in March).

While many have taken an economic hit in the past couple of months, most Americans continue to feel their financial situation is basically stable (65%). Throughout the pandemic, more than 6 in 10 Americans have maintained that they feel this way. The number of people who say they are struggling has declined from 26% in March to 20% in the current poll, while the number who say their finances are improving has been steady – from 11% in March to 13% currently. Compared to last year, the number of people who say they are struggling has returned to pre-Covid levels (20% in April 2019), but the number who say their situation is improving remains lower than in 2019 (25%).

“A large proportion of the public remains bullish on their financial outlook despite any hit they may have taken during the outbreak. That seems to be based on the expectation that they will quickly bounce back,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

A large majority (64%) of those who have been laid off because of the outbreak (or have had someone in their household laid off) expect that they will be able to return to their same job. Just 27% say they will have to look for a new job and 10% are unsure of their position. Among those who have experienced a layoff, 16% say they are already back at work, another 25% expect to be back at work in a few weeks and 22% expect to be back before the end of summer. Another 18% say it will take them until the end of the year to get back to work, 10% say it will take longer, 2% say they will never return to work, and 7% are uncertain about their return to the workforce.

There is a link between expectations about returning to work and overall sense of financial stability. Among those experiencing an outbreak-related layoff in their household, 30% say they are struggling financially, 58% feel stable, and just 10% are improving. The outlook is most negative among those who do not expect to go back to work in the next few weeks, with 41% say they are struggling, 50% stable, and 7% improving. However, among those who will return to work shortly or have already returned, just 15% are struggling, while 70% are stable and 14% are improving. This latter group’s outlook is similar to those who have not experienced any layoffs during the outbreak – 16% struggling, 68% stable, and 15% improving.

“The fact that most Americans have a positive view of their long-term outlook is either because they haven’t taken a direct hit or they feel their current situation is a temporary hiccup. It seems very few people expect any economic pain they may be experiencing now to last beyond the fall,” said Murray.

While the long-term outlook might be positive, the pandemic has disrupted vacation plans. Before the outbreak, 63% of Americans planned to take a trip for their summer vacation. Now, only 14% are definitely (8%) or probably (6%) sticking with those original plans. An additional 12% say they are likely to revise their original plans, equating to just 1 in 4 Americans who are definitely (13%) or probably (13%) going to take a vacation trip this summer. Among those whose original plans have or might change, 96% say the pandemic is the main reason why.

“A large number of Americans scrapped their vacation plans this summer. Those who will venture out are likely to pick a place they can reach by car. That means the more remote destinations will see the biggest drop in activity, but even vacation spots near population centers are likely to see fewer visitors overall,” said Murray.

Originally, 17% of Americans planned to travel outside the country this summer, 33% were going somewhere in the U.S. more than 200 miles from their homes, and 13% were sticking closer to home for their vacation trip. Now, just 3% plan to leave the U.S. on vacation, 12% will travel farther than 200 miles, and 11% will take a vacation trip closer to home. Originally, 36% of the public planned to take a plane for at least part of their vacation trip, 3% were going on a boat, and 1% were taking a train. Another 31% planned to drive for all or part of their trip. Currently, 8% plan to fly to a vacation spot this summer and fewer than 1% will take either a boat or a train, while 17% will drive.

Turning to the health impact of the virus, about 7 in 10 Americans remain at least somewhat concerned about someone in their family becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus. However, the number who are very concerned (37%) is down slightly from May (42%) and April (50%), and is in line with similar views in March (38%). In the current poll, another 32% are somewhat concerned, 14% are not too concerned and 16% are not at all concerned.

The number of Americans who report knowing someone who has gotten the virus is holding steady at 40%. It was also 40% in May while it was 26% in April. 2% of Americans report they have had the coronavirus themselves (2% in May and less than 1% in April) and 15% say a family member has contracted it (14% in May and 7% in April). By race, those who are white (12% now, 12% in May, and 5% in April) remain less likely than Americans who are black, Latino, Asian or of other races (23% now, 23% in May, and 12% in April) to report that they or someone in their family has gotten the coronavirus.

While there has been no increase in the number of Americans reporting to know someone with the virus since last month, faith in the nation’s ability to control the virus has slipped. Less than half the public (43%) has at least some confidence that the country will be able to limit the impact of the outbreak over the next few weeks. This number stood at 50% in May, 53% in April, and 62% in March. Confidence in being able to limit the impact has remained high among Republicans throughout the outbreak (74% now, 79% in May, 73% in April, 86% in March), but it has dipped among independents (40% now, 45% in May, 55% in April, 62% in March) and Democrats (21% now, 30% in May, 36% in April, 41% in March).

“Even though the rate of spread has slowed in many places, there is some doubt whether we really have a handle on this virus. The new normal means people expect that limitations on everyday activities will continue in some form,” said Murray.

Only 37% of Americans expect that the way they interact with others in public places will be able to return to how it used to be while 61% say they will have to make some permanent changes in the way they interact. Overall, slightly more than half (53%) feels very hopeful that they and their families will be able to get their lives back to normal after the pandemic. This number was higher in May (63%) and April (69%). Another 38% in the current poll are somewhat hopeful, while very few are either not too (5%) or not at all (3%) hopeful.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from May 28 to June 1, 2020 with 807 adults in the United States.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

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