WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s the paradox of a pandemic that has crushed the U.S. economy: 12.9 million lost jobs and a rash of businesses closing, yet the personal finances of many Americans have remained strong — and in some ways have even improved.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 45% of Americans say they’re setting aside more money than usual. Twenty-six percent are paying down debt faster than they were before the coronavirus pandemic. In total, about half of Americans say they’ve either saved more or paid down debt since the outbreak began.
The findings highlight the unique nature of the current crisis. Nearly $3 trillion in government aid in the form of direct payments, expanded jobless benefits and forgivable payroll loans helped cushion against the fastest economic downturn in American history. Meanwhile, health fears and mandated closures prompted many Americans to spend less on restaurant meals, clothing and travel.
About two-thirds say they’re spending less than usual during the pandemic. Since February, there has been a $1.3 trillion jump in money kept in checking accounts — a 56% increase tracked by the Federal Reserve. While the greater savings helps to keep families more financially secure, it may also limit the scope of any recovery in a country that relies on consumer spending for growth.
Kent Sullivan, a landscape painter from Orlando, Florida, has been making extra mortgage payments. The 68-year-old and his wife received $1,200 in direct government payments and hope to own their home free and clear within 18 months.
“Everything goes into extra mortgage payments,” he said. “As an artist, it’s feast or famine. You never know if you’re going to get a big commission or if the gallery does well.”
The findings shed light on a persistent riddle of a global pandemic in which a weakened economy has somehow spared most U.S. families from the worst of the financial toll. Just 37% call the national economy good, down from 67% in January. But at the same time, 63% describe their personal financial situation as good, largely in line with what it was before the pandemic began more than six months ago.
People’s positive feelings about their own finances might also be helping President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection this November against former Vice President Joe Biden. About half of Americans, 47%, approve of how Trump is handling the economy. That’s significantly higher than his overall favorable rating of 35%.
“He’s a businessman, not a politician,” said Sally Gansz, 78, from Trinidad, Colorado. “He’ll get jobs back — he did it before.”
Still, about a quarter of Americans say they’ve been unable to pay at least one bill because of the pandemic, including 14% who’ve been unable to make a rent or mortgage payment, 14% who have been unable to pay a credit card bill and 21% who have been unable to pay another type of bill. Seventeen percent have been unable to pay multiple types of bills.