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Optimism fades that U.S. jobs lost to virus will return: AP poll

July 24, 2020
By Josh Boak and Emily Swanson/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of Americans whose families experienced a layoff during the coronavirus pandemic now believe those jobs are lost forever, a new poll shows, as temporary cutbacks give way to shuttered businesses, bankruptcies and lasting payroll cuts.

It’s a sharp change after initial optimism the jobs would return. In April, 78 per cent of those in households with a job loss thought they’d be temporary. Now, 47 per cent think that lost job is definitely or probably not coming back, according to the latest poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

That translates into roughly 10 million workers who will need to find a new employer, if not a new occupation.

The poll is the latest sign the solid hiring of May and June, as some states lifted stay-at-home orders and the economy began to recover, may wane as the year goes on.


School plans add to difficulty

Adding to the challenge: many students will begin the school-year online, making it harder for parents to take jobs outside their homes.

“Honestly, at this point, there’s not going to be a job to go back to,” said Tonica Daley, 35, who lives in Riverside, Calif., and has four children ranging from three to 18 years old. “The kids are going to do virtual school, and there is no day care.”

Daley was furloughed from her job as a manager at J.C. Penney, which has filed for bankruptcy protection. The extra US$600 a week in jobless benefits Congress provided as part of the federal government’s coronavirus relief efforts let her family pay down its credit cards, she said, but the potential expiration or reduction of those benefits in August would force her to borrow money to get by.

The economy’s recovery has shown signs of stalling amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. The number of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose last week for the first time since March, while the number of U.S. infections shot past 4 million — with many more cases undetected.

The poll shows that 72 per cent of Americans would rather have restrictions in place in their communities to stop the spread of COVID-19 than remove them in an effort to help the economy. Just 27 per cent want to prioritize the economy over efforts to stop the outbreak.

“The only real end to this pandemic problem is the successful application of vaccines,” said Fred Folkman, 82, a business professor from Long Island, in New York.

Political divisions persist

About nine in 10 Democrats prioritize stopping the virus, while Republicans are more evenly divided — 46 per cent focus on stopping the spread, while 53 per cent say the economy is the bigger priority.

President Donald Trump and Congress have yet to agree to a new aid package. Democrats, who control the House, have championed an additional $3 trillion in help, including money for state and local governments. Republicans, who control the Senate, have proposed $1 trillion, decreasing the size of the expanded unemployment benefits.

Overall, about half of Americans say they or someone in their household has lost some kind of income over the course of the pandemic. That includes 27 per cent who say someone has been laid off, 33 per cent been scheduled for fewer hours, 24 per cent taken unpaid time off and 29 per cent had wages or salaries reduced.

Eighteen per cent of those who lost a household job now say it has come back, while another 34 per cent still expect it to return.

The poll continues to show the pandemic’s disparate impact. About 6 in 10 nonwhite Americans say they’ve lost a source of household income, compared with about half of white Americans. Forty-six per cent of those with college degrees say they’ve lost some form of household income, compared with 56 per cent of those without.

Trump’s approval rating on handling the economy stands at 48 per cent, consistent with where it stood a month ago but down from January and March, when 56 per cent said they approved. Still, the economy remains Trump’s strongest issue. Working to Trump’s advantage, 88 per cent of Republicans — including 85 per cent of those whose households have lost income during the pandemic — approve of his handling of the economy. Eighty-two per cent of Democrats disapprove.

“A lot of people criticize our president, but he’s a cheerleader,” said Jim Russ, 74, a retired state worker from Austin, Texas. “As long we keep that, the American public will think positive and look positive.”

Economic outlook

The poll finds that 38 per cent of Americans think the national economy is good. That’s about the same as in June and up from 29 per cent in May but far below the 67 per cent who felt that way in January.

Sixty-four per cent of Republicans think the economy is good, compared with 19 per cent of Democrats. Likewise, 59 per cent of Republicans expect the economy to improve in the next year, while Democrats are more likely to expect it to worsen than improve, 47 per cent to 29 per cent.

Sixty-five per cent of Americans also call their personal financial situation good. That’s about the same as it’s been throughout the pandemic and before the crisis began. Still, Americans are slightly less likely than they were a month ago to expect their personal financial situation to improve in the next year. Thirty-three per cent say that now, after 38 per cent said so a month ago. Another 16 per cent expect their finances to worsen, while 51 per cent expect no changes.

So much of what happens in the economy will depend on the trajectory of the virus, said Danny Vaughn, 72, from Dade City, Fla.

“I don’t disagree with everything the president does, but his leadership on the coronavirus issue has been lacking,” Vaughn said. “And that’s the No. 1 issue facing the American people right now.”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,057 adults was conducted July 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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