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Poll finds recession fears high amid layoffs and pay cuts from coronavirus fallout

A medical examiner truck at a makeshift morgue set up outside Bellevue Hospital to accommodate the growing number of covid-19 cases in New York City. (Ryan Christopher Jones/For The Washington Post)
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Americans are feeling the economic fallout from the spreading coronavirus crisis, with a ma­jority saying the outbreak has caused a family member to lose their job or face a reduction in pay or hours — and even more fearing a recession that could be as bad or worse than the one caused by the financial collapse of 2008, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey finds 1 in 3 saying they or an immediate family member has been laid off, while about half report a cut in work hours or pay for someone in their family. Among those who haven’t suffered such setbacks, at least half are concerned that they will occur.

More than 9 in 10 Americans say they think the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cause an economic recession. More than 6 in 10 are predicting that the downturn will rival or eclipse the Great Recession of a decade ago.

In their own communities, more than 4 in 10 say, the pandemic already has had a “severe” economic impact. That was the sentiment of about half of residents in urban areas.

The nationwide survey conducted Sunday through Wednesday illustrates the stark damage the coronavirus outbreak has caused in only a few weeks to an economy in which Americans had expressed record-high optimism when it came to their personal finances. The job concerns were echoed Thursday in a Labor Department report that showed that 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the past week.

Read the full Post-ABC poll results| See results by group

The poll finds strong and bipartisan support for two of three key parts of a $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed at blunting the pandemic’s economic impact. The Senate approved the measure on a 96-to-0 vote late Wednesday.

More than 8 in 10 Americans — across party lines — support providing cash payments of $1,000 or more to Americans with annual incomes of less than $100,000, and 9 in 10 support providing billions in financial assistance to small businesses.

Senators announced March 25 that they reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at providing economic relief. (Video: The Washington Post)

But the public is split on providing similar assistance to large corporations, with 46 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. The divide is also seen between parties, with 54 percent of Republicans supporting the idea and 54 percent of Democrats against it.

Partisans also split on their perception of how badly the pandemic will damage the U.S. economy. Although more than 8 in 10 people of all major partisan groups say a recession is likely, more than 6 in 10 Democrats and independents say it is “very likely,” compared with about 4 in 10 Republicans saying so.

If a recession happens, 26 percent overall are optimistic that it will not be as bad as the Great Recession that began in 2008, while 33 percent think it will be “about the same” and 33 percent predict it will be worse. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say that they expect a recession that is worse than that of 2008-09 (43 percent vs. 18 percent). Those in urban areas are twice as likely as those in rural areas to say the same (41 percent vs. 20 percent).

Pessimism about the economy peaks among people whose families have already experienced job loss or a cut in hours or pay. Among this group, 41 percent say they expect a potential downturn to be worse than the Great Recession. Also, 55 percent of those in this group say the economic effects have been severe.

The concerns about the financial impact of the pandemic span across the country as well as across most income and demographic groups. Yet the most acute effect has been on blacks, Hispanics, younger adults and people with children at home.

About 4 in 10 blacks and Hispanics alike say an immediate family member has lost a job, compared with about 3 in 10 whites. Similarly, 40 percent of those with children younger than 18 at home say their family has experienced a layoff, compared with 29 percent of those without children. The poll finds that 39 percent of Americans younger than 40 say that an immediate family member has lost a job. That compares with 31 percent among those ages 40 to 64, as well as 24 percent of seniors.

The Washington Post’s Hannah Jewell speaks with comedians, actors, musicians, a drag artist and a clown about how to survive social distancing. (Video: The Washington Post)

Employment setbacks are strikingly similar across the states, regardless of whether residents have been ordered to stay home as much as possible. In states without such orders, 31 percent say they or a family member have been laid off, similar to 35 percent of those in states that have ordered people to stay home. About half of residents in both groups of states report a family member who has had hours or pay cut.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone March 22-25 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, 75 percent of whom were reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Emily Guskin and Alauna Safarpour contributed to this report.