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The differences among us

As the global pandemic continues, American sentiment and needs differ between age and socioeconomic groups
As the global pandemic continues, American sentiment and needs differ between age and socioeconomic groups
By WP BrandStudio

It’s the line officials keep repeating over and over: the novel coronavirus, like other viruses, isn’t choosy about who it infects. It knows no boundaries and has no regard for geographical location, race, ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status. There are very few people who will emerge from this viral pandemic without some kind of physical, psychological or economic impact—possibility all three. But as the current crisis continues to play out across the country, it’s becoming clear that the pathogen is eliciting a range of reactions from different demographics.

Ad Council recently released new data from its ongoing study into the issues weighing most heavily on Americans during the covid-19 emergency, conducted with the pro bono help of C+R Research. The findings appear to confirm distinct disparities in people’s experiences, and thus, the sentiments of different generational, geographical and economic subsets. These reports aim to highlight the top conversations the public is having—and how they’re shifting from week to week—in an effort to guide issue experts, the media and brands in creating serviceable content that best meets the real-time needs of Americans.

Here are the prime concerns occupying people’s thoughts right now, as indicated by the second week of the Ad Council survey—and what these results potentially mean for those searching for the right messaging during this unprecedented time.

A generational divide

If any generation among us has had to face economic challenges over the span of their lifetime, it is millennials. The eldest of them graduated into the workforce during the great recession of 2008, at a time when fewer companies were hiring. They’re now saddled with higher amounts of student loan debt than previous generations and face an unaffordable housing market. Fallout from the 2008 financial crisis has also meant fewer opportunities to build the kinds of savings their parents and grandparents did.

A 2018 study by the St. Louis Fed found that the wealth levels of millennials today are 34 percent below where they would have been had the financial crisis never occurred. A 2019 report by think tank New America also found that millennials earn 20 percent less than Baby Boomers did at the same age. Now with this pandemic, they are suffering through yet another catastrophic economic downturn during what should be their peak earning years—and with more than 20 million children relying on them, no less.

With all the economic volatility, it’s no wonder younger adults (in the 18-34 and 34-44 demographics) have expressed having more need than older populations (ages 45-64 and 65-plus), particularly when it comes to peace of mind, general financial assistance due to loss of income, getting personal protective equipment (PPE) and affording household bills. Young people are also feeling more negative emotions such as isolation and depression than older adults. This emotional toll relates to questions of civil liberties, increased discrimination, risk of spreading covid-19 to others, job loss, paying bills and the physical and mental health of themselves, their friends and their families.

Meanwhile, Americans with children are expressing more worry than the general population, and are expressing the need for more help across the board with the top concerns being getting PPE, peace of mind and financial assistance. In fact, households with children (87 percent) are more likely to be financially impacted by covid-19 than non-family households (78 percent). Parents are significantly more worried about their own health, losing their jobs and increased crime than non-family households.

For messaging that reaches these younger generations, stakeholders could benefit from a focus on creating hope for the future and the positive lessons we are learning as a country. Given their current concerns, millennials may respond more to content or brands that assuage their existential and financial worries, or addresses their concerns in an optimistic way. As for those ages 45 and up, messaging can remind them to take comfort that what they’ve accomplished and built so far will help carry them through this moment—including family or strong networks of support, financial savings and proven ability to be resilient.

Economic disparities

If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has only served to magnify and exacerbate the economic disparities long stewing in our society today. Research has indicated that people in low-income brackets tend to be more vulnerable during crises like the pandemic, compared to those who are in higher income brackets.

People in low-income populations are also more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions—and more likely to lack access to healthcare—putting them at higher risk of complications if they contract covid-19.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this segment of the population is also more likely to be employed in “essential,” minimum-wage jobs—grocery store clerks and food delivery people, for example—and risk viral exposure when they leave home and go to work.

The Ad Council survey results appear to be in lockstep with these findings, showing a radical difference in the immediate needs of low-income Americans when it comes to assistance in employment and affording basic things, compared to those who report being more financially stable. Lower socioeconomic groups have also said they are more tired, lonely and depressed, and are significantly more concerned about crime, job loss, and their physical and mental health. That’s why content creators should consider pivoting their messaging to focus on immediate relief efforts and tools for staying healthy during the pandemic.

The bigger picture, this week

As time goes on, there’s been a small increase in Americans reporting that they now know someone who has or had covid-19 (up to 28 percent from 24 percent last week). In regions where there are more confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, such as the Northeast, people are feeling more anxious, tired and isolated as well, perhaps an indication of the prevalence of negative news being reported by local media outlets.

Overall, Americans appear to have worried less this week than the previous week, with 43 percent of those surveyed saying they’re feeling more hopeful, up from 38 percent last week. Just over half of Americans say they felt grateful in the past week as well, which continues to be the top reported feeling.

What are they most grateful for? The health and well-being of their family, friends, loved ones and/or co-workers (46%) and their own health (42%) topped the responses. It is significant that in this time of crisis—where health is of paramount concern, financial hardship is spreading and families are forced to isolate—appreciation of these simple but powerful things is still there. For content creators and other stakeholders, this is a benevolence and kindness that can be tapped into and reflected back to Americans—that even amid a pandemic, humanity remains strong.

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Credits: By WP BrandStudio.