WASHINGTON – Much of the country remains unlikely to venture out to bars, restaurants, theaters or gyms anytime soon, despite state and local officials across the country increasingly allowing businesses to reopen, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
That hesitancy in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak could muffle any recovery from what has been the sharpest and swiftest economic downturn in U.S. history. Just 42% of those who went to concerts, movies, theaters or sporting events at least monthly before the outbreak say they'd do so in the next few weeks if they could. Only about half of those who regularly went to restaurants, exercised at the gym or traveled would feel comfortable doing so again.
About a quarter of Americans say someone in their household has lost a job amid that downturn, and about half have lost household income, including layoffs, pay cuts, cut hours or unpaid time off. The majority of those whose household suffered a layoff still believe they will return to their previous employer, but the share expecting their job will not return has risen slightly over the past month, to 30% from 20%.
Amber Van Den Berge, a teacher in Indiana, held off on immediately returning to her second job as a fitness instructor. She would need to pass a test for COVID-19, get her temperature checked each morning and lead class while wearing a protective mask.
“Wear a mask to teach a fitness class? I'm not ready for that,” said Van Den Berge, 39.
The speed and strength of any economic rebound could be thwarted because many fear the risk of new infections. Consumers make up roughly 70% of U.S. economic activity, so anything less than a total recovery in spending would force many companies to permanently close and deepen the financial pain for 39 million people who have lost jobs in roughly the past two months.
Forty-nine percent of Americans approve of how President Donald Trump is handling the economy, the poll shows. That has slipped over the last two months, from 56% in March.
Still, the issue remains a relative positive for Trump, whose overall approval rating stands at 41%.
Trump has at times downplayed the threat of the coronavirus and the benefits of testing and has criticized the leadership of Democratic governors. Meanwhile, many Democratic lawmakers have insisted on the importance of containing the disease and sustaining the economy with federal aid.
ShyJuan Clemons, 45, of Merrillville, Indiana, says Trump has made the fallout from the pandemic worse by initially denying its dangers and failing to display much empathy for those hurt by the coronavirus.
“Even my cat knows that he's terrible,” said Clemons, referring to his 14-year-old Siamese mix, Shinji.
Clemons works with special needs people and worries about his hours if Indiana – starved of tax revenues because of the disease – cuts its budget.
But it also shows how an atmosphere of political polarization may be feeding both an eagerness by some to return and a reluctance by others to resume their previous lifestyles.
Among those who did so at least monthly before the outbreak, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say they'd go to restaurants (69% to 37%), movies, concerts or theaters (68% to 28%), travel (65% to 38%) and go to a gym or fitness studio (61% to 44%).
Sixty-nine percent of those who regularly shopped in person for nonessential items before the outbreak, including majorities among both parties, say they'd be likely to wander malls and stores again.
But Republicans are more likely to say so than Democrats, 82% to 61%.
Stock indexes turned mixed on Wall Street on Friday afternoon, recouping much of their losses from earlier in the day, as the market closed out a choppy week ahead of a long holiday weekend in the U.S.
The S&P 500 was up 0.1% after having been down 0.5%.
After mounting a strong rebound in April, stocks bounced around this week as traders looked for signs pointing to the market's direction.
“We're in a bit of a hold right now looking for the next catalyst,” said Brian Levitt, global market strategist at Invesco. “There's still an awful lot of uncertainty we have to work though.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 54 points, or 0.2%, to 24,419. The Nasdaq composite was up 0.4%. Small company stocks, the biggest gainers so far this month, also recovered from an early slide, sending the Russell 2000 up 0.3%. U.S. stock markets will be closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.
– Associated Press