Posts Tagged "COVID-19"
June 2, 2022
COVID Relief Checks Helped Needy the Most
In the pandemic’s early days, the unraveling of economic life was breathtaking. Some 3.3 million Americans filed for jobless benefits in the second week of March 2020. A record 6.6 million joined them the following week.
By April, government checks were starting to land in workers’ bank accounts, bringing the urgent relief Congress intended. The unemployed used the often-substantial assistance – up to $3,400 for a family of four – to cover basic expenses, and the people who were holding on to their jobs saved for possibly difficult days ahead.
New research shows that the benefits of this assistance disproportionately went to those who needed it most: low-income workers and people who had financial problems before COVID hit.
The relief checks “have been more of a lifeline for individuals who were struggling,” the study concluded. “Rather than simply help prevent widening inequality,” the relief “may have helped close the gap.”
Consider the workers who either had great difficulty paying their debts in 2019 or had been spending more than they earned. Thanks to the first round of relief distributed in 2020, both groups saw improvement in three major areas, according to the Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California.
The disadvantaged workers experienced the largest reductions in financial stress and felt more satisfied with their finances. They also felt less financially fragile, reporting that it was easier to come up with $400 in cash for an emergency like a car repair. And their ability to save increased.
The researchers said they couldn’t directly credit the relief checks for these improvements. Another important factor – the enhanced unemployment benefit of $600 per week – was also simultaneously at play. But one analysis in this study did find that the people who had received the checks saw more gains than the workers who were still waiting for their checks when they participated in the Internet survey in April 2020 that the researchers used.
As was widely acknowledged at the time, lower-paid hourly workers suffered the brunt of the pandemic-related layoffs. The researchers found that $60,000 in yearly income was a sort of dividing line: households that earned less benefited more from the government assistance than households that earned over $60,000. The lower-income households were more likely to build up their checking and savings account balances. …Learn More
April 7, 2022
The Pandemic Was a Gift to this Grandpa
In the early days of the pandemic, four of Marc Joseph’s grandchildren, along with their parents, came from Austin and Orlando to live with him and his wife, Cathy, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Two other grandchildren living nearby were frequent visitors to the house for meals and sleepovers with their cousins.
Many families coalesced to ride out the pandemic together and counteract the stillness that fell over the world. Joseph’s six joyful weeks with his grandkids, ranging in age from 1 to 8, changed how he looks at his personal relationships and the responsibilities of being a grandparent.
“As you grow older, you grow wiser,” he said. “I wish I was there more often for my kids – every concert they were in, every ballgame they played. I was traveling around the world. I wasn’t always home,” said the former entrepreneur. “If I can spend more time with my grandkids, then maybe it’s making up for what I didn’t give my kids.”
The time with his grandchildren is so precious that Gramps, as the children call him, found a way to keep the connection alive when the children went back home. Every evening, he and Cathy made up stories about dinosaurs roaming their house in order to share them with the grandkids on Facetime. One night, the dinosaurs camped out at the refrigerator eating blueberries. Another night they were playing the piano.
“We became part of the routine,” Joseph said. “The kids took baths and read books and then they’d say, ‘What are the dinosaurs doing tonight?’ That gave us a chance to keep in communication with them.”
Joseph’s focus on family isn’t at all unusual. One research study found that women don’t make major changes in their more developed personal lives after retiring. But men do. After years of focusing on their careers, older men become more dependent on family and greatly expand their social networks.
All that love from grandchildren – without having to worry about managing their day-to-day activities – takes the edge off of getting older. This may be especially true during COVID, which has isolated retirees from the social interaction crucial to maintaining their mental and physical health. …Learn More
January 27, 2022
Rental Market Roars Back and Workers Pay
For a whole host of pandemic-related reasons, rents dipped in 2020 as millions of Americans lost jobs, stayed home from college, left the cities, or arranged for aging parents to live with them.
But the economy has bounced back, and an additional 900,000 households entered the rental market in the first nine months last year. This unusually large surge in demand drove up rents and raised new concerns about housing affordability for the low- and middle-income workers who were already struggling to pay the rent.
The market for professionally managed apartments saw an unprecedented rent spike of 11 percent in the third quarter of 2021 compared with a year earlier. Prior to the pandemic, annual rent increases had averaged 2 percent to 5 percent. The biggest hikes are in pricier apartments and are being fueled by a strong job market and young adults in their 30s marrying or moving in with partners or friends.
“These higher-income renters aren’t just living in units that are higher end. They’re also competing for units that would be affordable to middle- and lower-income households,” said Alexander Hermann, senior research analyst with the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
“The affordability challenges they’re facing are real, and there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about what’s happening,” he said.
One positive development in a difficult rental market is that multifamily construction is at its highest level since the 1980s. However, it will take years for the new inventory to ease the pressures on apartment supplies and rents.
The low inventory of single-family houses for sale currently, combined with high house prices, are also driving up apartment demand by well-paid professionals. To satisfy the demand, hedge funds and other businesses are snapping up single- and multifamily homes and renovating them as rental properties. The high-end market is so hot that rents in this segment rose 14 percent last year, according to the Harvard housing center’s new report.
At the bottom of the income ladder, however, 23 percent of households with less than $25,000 in income are behind on rent, as are 15 percent of households earning between $25,000 and $50,000. These renters are disproportionately people of color, who felt the brunt of the massive job losses when businesses shut down early in the pandemic. …Learn More
January 20, 2022
Wandering into Retirement Worked for Him
Howard Gantman didn’t exactly have a plan for retirement. Rather, he wandered into it during the early months of COVID chaos.
Nevertheless, retirement is going better than he’d expected. Gantman, who read comic books and science fiction voraciously as a child, has rediscovered his passion. He joined a writing group on Zoom and is working on a science fiction novel of his own. (And no, he’s not disclosing the plot yet.)
“I’m happier doing this than I would’ve been if I’d continued to work. I really was ready for a change,” the Washington, D.C., resident said in a recent interview. “Aside from a gruesome virus that keeps on whacking us on the head, I feel more in control of my life.”
Retirement experts often warn baby boomers that planning for lifestyle changes before retiring is just as important as making certain one’s finances are in order. That’s the ideal. But not everyone who’s making the transition has a well-developed plan or takes a straight route to where they wind up.
Gantman, a former journalist and government and communications professional, had anticipated working until he was about 72. In March 2019, at age 67, he left his job at the Motion Picture Association during a staffing transition and started focusing on consulting and volunteer work while searching for a new job. In December, he had to go into the hospital for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm and replace an aortic valve.
After the surgery, while he was recovering and doing some light consulting, COVID hit and his employment opportunities dried up.
He decided to get back into creative writing, something he had only dabbled in as a young, workaholic journalist and then government official. At first, he blogged about aging and thought about writing a memoir centered on his late-life transition. But that topic no longer seemed to strike the right tone with so many lives suddenly in turmoil around COVID.
That’s when his love of science fiction and fantasy pulled him back in. “I decided that’s it. That’s what I want to do,” he said about writing a novel. …Learn More
January 13, 2022
2 Options in an Emergency: Savings or Family
The pandemic was a crash course in the importance of having some money in the bank for an emergency.
When COVID started to spread, jobs vanished, mothers abruptly stopped working to care for children who weren’t in school, and, for the unlucky people who became ill, the medical bills rolled in.
Congress took extraordinary measures during these extraordinary times and approved three rounds of relief payments totaling several thousand dollars per household in 2020 and 2021. But the federal payments, along with extra unemployment benefits and an increase in the child tax credit, weren’t enough to keep everyone afloat.
That left the people who didn’t have any savings with one other fallback option to get them through the tough times: borrowing from a family member.
The non-savers resorted to borrowing from family at three times the rate of people who did have savings – 15 versus just 5 percent, according to surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021 by the financial services company, BlackRock.
But borrowing from family to ease financial strains causes another problem: the people who got help from family said it stressed them out, the survey found.
Right now, the economy is doing pretty well, and jobs are plentiful. It might be time to think about a New Year’s Resolution. Many workers are still barely getting by, and it can be difficult to save. But at least give it a try.
The next time you have a financial emergency, Congress probably won’t be there to bail you out.
December 14, 2021
Is Americans’ Savings Buffer Wearing Thin?
COVID has worn Americans down emotionally. But it might be eating away at their financial reserves too – at least for some people.
As the pandemic has dragged on, many people said in newly released surveys that they are more anxious about their finances and feel that their savings are wearing thin.
We won’t get a true picture of the pandemic’s impact until it is far away in the rear-view mirror. For one thing, Congress’ intent when it doled out historic amounts of cash assistance to workers was to carry them through the COVID lockdowns and resulting unemployment. And it worked.
After federal relief checks were deposited into bank accounts, the saving rate shot up to about 34 percent in April 2020 and to almost 27 percent in March 2021 – the highest levels this country has seen in decades. The rate has floated down to single digits as people have spent the extra money but remains relatively high.
Recent job gains and wage increases should also bolster balance sheets. Businesses added 626,000 more jobs in June through September than the U.S. Department of Labor had originally estimated, and October was a blockbuster month, with 531,000 new jobs created. In the November jobs report, unemployment hit a pre-pandemic low of 4.2 percent.
But these signs of progress are mixed in with feelings of unease. One thing is clear from surveys of workers by T. Rowe Price, said Joshua Dietch, vice president: The challenges that existed before COVID “didn’t get any lighter as a result of the pandemic.”
NPR also fielded a financial survey in August and September of this year. More than a third of U.S. households said they are having “serious financial problems.” And the workers who have suffered the most during the economic downturn last year – people of color – are in the worst shape: more than half of Black, Hispanic, and Native American households said their financial problems were serious.
A deterioration in savings could be behind that feeling of financial insecurity. Nearly 40 percent of households in NPR’s survey with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said they have no “savings to fall back on” – that is double the share who reported having no savings prior to COVID. The share of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans who lack savings also doubled, though to much higher levels of 63 percent, 56 percent, and 55 percent, respectively. …Learn More
December 7, 2021
Small Business Backing of Paid Leave Grows
The pandemic exposed inequities in the U.S. healthcare system. It also revealed a related shortcoming in our workplaces: the lack of mandated paid family and medical leave for most Americans – and especially lower-paid workers.
The United States is the only developed country that does not have a national policy of paid time off for an extended period for illness or maternity leave. In that way, we are keeping company with places like Micronesia and Tonga.
Many major employers do offer sick time and paid or unpaid maternity leave. Even so, 60 percent of the highest-paid workers, who tend to work in larger companies, don’t have access to paid leave for themselves or a family member for extended periods for a severe illness, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The situation is much tougher for lower-paid workers, who are concentrated in small business: 93 percent lack access to paid leave.
Last month, the House approved a reconciliation bill that would mandate four weeks of paid leave for all workers in the event that they or family members become ill. It’s uncertain whether this provision of the reconciliation bill will clear the Senate.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has opposed paid leave in the past, arguing that workers who take extended time off strain under-staffed small employers. Although the federal government would pay a supplement to employers for the leave under the House bill, NFIB said the required paperwork creates administrative headaches.
But this position isn’t supported by small business owners, according to a new study. Even prior to the pandemic, they were in favor of a paid leave policy for employees to take care of family members – and COVID has only strengthened their resolve.
In the fall of 2019, 62 percent of small businesses in New Jersey and New York were very or somewhat supportive of paid family leave, the researchers found. By the fall of 2020 – after months of wrestling with how to handle employees whose family members had contracted COVID – small employers’ support had jumped to 71 percent. …Learn More