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COVID-19 Sparks Huge Shifts in American Financial Well-Being; Poll Finds Openness to Change

Pandemic’s financial crisis disproportionately borne by minority households

Washington, D.C. | June 8, 2020 – A new nationwide survey of likely voters conducted for the Bipartisan Policy Center and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation finds bipartisan support for reforms that support American workers and their families. The survey reveals that Americans want jobs restored and are looking for pragmatic solutions tethered to employment, such as unemployment insurance reform, benefit portability, and family leave benefits.

The poll also finds Black and Hispanic households report unemployment and reduction of work hours at higher rates than white households. Additionally, higher percentages of Black and Hispanic households said they have tapped into savings in response to the financial hardships caused by the pandemic crisis.

Black and Hispanic households also reported higher rates of taking actions, such as delaying bill payments or borrowing money, to lower household costs or increase income during the crisis.

Three in four voters (76%) are not content to simply return to the same systems that existed prior to the COVID-19 economic crisis. However, most voters are not drawn to big systemic changes such as universal income, as much as they support pragmatic solutions tethered to employment, such as unemployment insurance reform, benefit portability, and family leave benefits.

“An overwhelming percentage of voters from both parties want practical solutions that empower and protect America’s working families,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “While demanding major change, voters also express skepticism about vast new government programs. These results should remind lawmakers that people want real jobs not empty promises.”

“Far too many hard-working Americans were already living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic, which has exposed the fragility of America’s social safety net,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the poll. “This data shows that Americans don’t just want to go back to the way things were. They want changes to the American economy that enables their children and families to not just survive, but thrive.”

Key findings include:

Potential policy solutions

  • Unemployment benefit reform: The poll found that 90% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans, and 89% of independents view favorably unemployment insurance reform, with a 62% majority of those who view it favorably saying benefit reform would make a “real and useful” difference in the lives of people they know.
  • Licensing reform/scope of practice: Fully 86% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans, and 86% of all independents favor licensing reform, with a 59% majority of those who view it favorably saying it would make a “real and useful” difference in the lives of people they know.
  • 401(k) portability & multi-job coverage: Fully 86% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans, and an identical 90% of independents favor 401(k) retirement portability and multi-job coverage reform, with half (49%) saying 401(k) reform of this type would make a “real and useful” difference.
  • Extend expanded paid Family and Medical Leave: Fully 87% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans, and 86% of independents favor extending paid leave benefit post-COVID with employer tax incentive so that it is less likely to hurt job creation.

Racial Disparities

  • 51% of Black households and 47% of Hispanic households said they used part of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) checks to purchase groceries, versus only 31% for white households.
  • Only 23% of white households say they have tapped savings, borrowed, or sought other emergency funds since the start of the crisis while 44% of Black and 42% of Hispanic households say the same.
  • 70% of Black households and 60% of Hispanic households that had emergency savings before the crisis say they have dipped into them during the past few months compared to only 34% of those white households that had savings.
  • Only 17% of white households say they have missed a payment (such as a mortgage, credit card, utility, internet, or rent payment) since the start of the crisis, compared to 37% of Black households and 42% of Hispanic households.

Additional findings include:

  • 30% of working voters say they have applied for unemployment benefits.
  • 42% of working voter households have become “job hurt,” either experiencing unemployment, furlough, a pay cut, or are unpaid.
  • 51% of single parents and a similar percentage of Hispanic workers say they have filed for unemployment. One-third of Black workers and a quarter of white workers have also filed for unemployment.
  • Republicans and Democrats are equally as likely to have applied for unemployment benefits, leading to 89% consensus to reform systems to reflect the 21st century workforce, including flexibility for gig workers.
  • 45% of Americans report their workplace is operating in a reduced capacity and 18% report it has closed.
  • Both Black and Hispanic households (14%) are twice as likely as white households (7%) to have someone become unemployed since mid-March.
  • Roughly one in three (35%) Hispanic and (31%) Black voter households in recent weeks have either had their hours cut, or someone else in their household has, compared to one in five (20%) whites.
  • A majority of Hispanic (59%) and Black (54%) voter households are now suffering from life-stressing unemployment, underemployment or pay cuts, versus 36% of whites.
  • Only 48% of Black working-age respondents say they have an IRA or 401(k), compared to 65% of whites and 62% of Hispanics.
  • A 59% majority of Black voters say after the COVID-19 crisis passes, it is time we recognize there are “big holes in our social protections to fix,” compared to 44% of whites and 43% of Hispanics.

The BPC online poll surveyed 1,200 likely American voters between May 11-17, when many households and individuals were struggling with unemployment, lost or diminished wages, and depleted savings. At that time, some began receiving government assistance from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020.

The poll’s overall margin of error is +/- 2.83% at the 95% confidence level and higher for subgroups. The survey followed eight focus group sessions conducted in Dallas and Pittsburgh in early March, just before COVID-19 related restrictions began to be put in place in the United States.

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