The coronavirus crisis has delivered some shocking financial numbers. An unemployment rate that could hit 20 percent. More than 16 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in just three weeks. A gross domestic product that could fall faster than at any time in modern history.
Now comes a frightening look at the local impact.
One in four working residents in the Tampa Bay area has been laid off or furloughed since the pandemic began, according to a report released Friday from the Tampa Bay Partnership. Without assistance or other income, half of them can only support their household for 19 days or less.
Many others are still working but have had their pay or hours cut, which can make it hard to pay rent or afford groceries.
Coronavirus delivered a quick and deep blow, one that has left many local families who were doing fine six weeks ago struggling to stay afloat. The findings highlight how a huge swath of people live close to financial peril, with or without a crisis. Most don’t have an emergency fund or a fat retirement account.
While scary, the results are hardly surprising given how the Tampa Bay area relies heavily on retail and hospitality, the sectors most affected when we shut down the economy to combat the virus. Those jobs don’t pay very well, so it’s no wonder many laid-off workers can support themselves only for a few weeks. All the more reason to debug the state’s chaotic unemployment benefits system. People need the weekly payments now.
Yes, some people spent beyond their means and could have prepared better for bad times. But the area’s low wages contribute to lousy savings rates. Either way, now is not the time to scold. People are hurting and they need help. We are all at least a little scared.
The report found that 8 in 10 Tampa Bay adults thought we were less than halfway through the crisis. More than two-thirds of laid off or furloughed workers weren’t sure they would find new jobs that paid as well as the ones they had before the crisis.
“Concern is high, confidence is low, and most residents believe we have a long way to go before we put this crisis in the rear-view mirror,” the report’s authors concluded.
The report was based on a survey from April 1 and 2 of a demographically representative group of 384 adults in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. Conducted by Downs & St. Germain Research, the survey has a margin of error of 5 percent.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, a business-supported group that focuses on big issues like transportation and building a skilled workforce, plans to update the survey every two weeks during the crisis.
The partnership’s president and CEO Rick Homans thinks some of the financial results will get bleaker in the coming weeks, as more people lose their jobs or deplete their savings.
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“Even in the week since we conducted the survey, the crisis has worsened,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to dig out of this.”
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests he’s right.
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Other findings from the survey
Because of the coronavirus situation, have you:
Worked from home: 38 percent
Had hours reduced: 28 percent
Been laid off/let go: 18 percent
Had wages/pay reduced: 12 percent
Been temporarily furloughed: 11 percent
Other: 4 percent
None: 15 percent
What are you most concerned about right now?
Getting sick with COVID-19: 76 percent
Finding essential food/supplies: 54 percent
Paying my bills: 48 percent
Separation from family/friends: 42 percent
Losing my savings: 33 percent
Accessing health care: 33 percent
Losing my job: 27 percent
School closures: 20 percent
Lack of child care: 6 percent
The percentage of people who said the response to the coronavirus crisis by these officials and government entities was very good or excellent:
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor: 49 percent
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman: 41 percent
Gov. Ron DeSantis: 39 percent
President Donald Trump: 34 percent
Local County Commissions: 34 percent
Florida Legislature: 29 percent
U.S. Congress: 26 percent
Source: Tampa Bay Partnership Resident Sentiment Study
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