Survey Reveals Biggest Increase in Economic Anxiety in 5 Years

Consumers worried about employment outlook, unpaid bills
Stressed out about financials

Consumers are experiencing increasing economic uncertainty as the coronavirus fallout continues. In fact, a new survey revealed a notable spike in economic anxiety year over year, with consumers now concerned about everything from staying employed to being able to buy groceries.

Nonprofit news organization Marketplace routinely surveys consumers to track their sentiment around economic issues, such as employment and personal finances, and uses the data to determine the Economic Anxiety Index, a tool to gauge the health of the economy. The index is reflected by a number between 0 to 100. The higher the number, the more economic stress consumers are under.

The most recent polling found that the score is now 35 — up seven points from last year — marking the largest increase from one year to the next since the index was created in 2015. The latest score is just one point shy of the index’s all-time high of 36, recorded in October 2016.

Employment concerns fuel fears

One of the greatest sources of concern among respondents is job security, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the health and financial security of people across the globe. In fact, 69% of workers surveyed were either unemployed or afraid they might lose their job in the next 12 months.

For those who have lost their jobs, some have faced challenges when filing for unemployment. More than a third of respondents who had applied for unemployment benefits reported that they have not been successful.

Life is not all that rosy for those who are still working either. Approximately 26% of respondents who were working when the survey was completed said they have had their pay cut. Additionally, 36% said they were working fewer hours than they were before the pandemic.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, there have been reports that some types of workers are getting hit harder. For example, a survey released in March found that hourly workers were more likely to have their hours cut or lose jobs entirely in the earliest days of the pandemic. The Marketplace survey found that those with a college degree were more likely to be able to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 71% were working from home at the time of the survey, compared to only 32% of respondents without a bachelor’s degree.

Lost income, unpaid bills spark anxiety

All in all, more than 32% of respondents said their households have lost income since the start of the pandemic. As a result, 44% said they are afraid they may be unable to afford to buy groceries at some point. Housing is another big concern, as more than half of homeowners who have a mortgage said they fear they may not be able to make a payment in the future. Renters will also likely feel the pain and encounter difficulty making rent payments in the coming months.

Respondents also revealed they weren’t well-positioned to cover emergency expenses. Of those surveyed, 41% said they could not cover a $250 unexpected expense. A striking 59% said they were not in a position to pay an unexpected expense of $1,000.

Methodology: Polling firm Edison Research conducted the most recent survey on behalf of Marketplace. It polled 1,018 adults online and over the phone between April 23-28.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.