51% of Working Americans Say the Pandemic Will Make It Harder to Achieve Their Long-Term Goals

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on March 23, 2021

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A worried woman wrapped in a blanket sitting at a window.

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Though some people may recover from the pandemic quickly, for others, it will be a prolonged process.

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been interesting, to say the least. Over the past 12 months, millions of jobs have been lost and countless Americans have seen their income drop during the pandemic. On the other end of the spectrum, stock market investors have seen their portfolio values soar, and many people have watched their savings accounts grow as remote work and other lifestyles changes have left them spending less money than ever before.

Of course, if there's one thing everyone can agree on, it's that the pandemic couldn't end soon enough. But a large number of workers say they expect to feel its impact even once it's long behind us. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center study reveals that 51% of working Americans think the pandemic will, in the long run, make it more difficult for them to achieve their long-term financial goals. By contrast, 7% of Americans think their goals will be easier to achieve following the pandemic, while 41% are neutral on the matter.

Long-term repercussions

It's easy to look at the coronavirus crisis as a temporary problem, but the harsh reality is that many people stand to suffer for years in its wake. Among those workers who say their financial situation has gotten worse during the pandemic, 44% think it will take three years or more to get back to where they were prior to the coronavirus outbreak. And on an even more sobering note, 10% think their finances will never recover.

There's been some aid for the public over the past 12 months -- stimulus checks, boosted unemployment benefits, and rental assistance. But those relief measures may not be enough to prevent the pandemic from wreaking havoc on a lot of people's long-term plans.

Among the millions of Americans who were unemployed as of February of 2021, almost 40% had been out of a job for 27 weeks or longer at that point. These workers may have a hard time recovering from the pandemic due to not just the financial impact of being jobless for so long, but due to an extended gap in experience. Women may also suffer their share of career-related setbacks, with an estimated 700,000 jobs held by female workers being lost as of January 2021.

Americans are more optimistic now than before

The good news in all of this is that on a whole, Americans feel better about their finances now than they did back in April of 2020, when the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 14.7% and there was a lot of uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic itself. Back then, only 47% of adults rated their personal financial situation as good or excellent, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, 53% would classify their circumstances as good or excellent.

But still, we can't gloss over the fact that for many people -- lower earners in particular -- the road to a pandemic-related recovery will be a long one. According to the Pew Research Center, a good 30% of Americans worry every day or almost every day about their debt, some of which may have been incurred during the pandemic, while 29% worry about how they'll manage to save for retirement. For many people, these aren't new or pandemic-specific concerns, but the events of the past 12 months may have exacerbated them.

As coronavirus vaccinations become more widely available, we could turn a corner as far as the pandemic goes. And once that happens, the economy could start to pick up. The addition of jobs may change a lot of people's current circumstances for the better, but even still, the pandemic's impact could very well linger for many years. Unfortunately, that's a reality a lot of people will need to brace for. If you're among those struggling financially due to the pandemic, see if these coronavirus resources can help.

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