The vaccine rollout and the new Democratic administration have made Wall Street rather optimistic: Goldman Sachs Even Goes To Project 2021 GDP Growth Over 6%– who, if this happened, would be the highest growth rate since 1984.
But don’t put it in pencil yet. Look no further than the Jobs Report on Friday, who found that the nation lost 140,000 jobs in December—Our first net job loss since April.
To sustain an economic recovery, it takes more than a confident Wall Street. Main Street, or American consumers who make up two-thirds of GDP, would also need to feel confident enough to spend big-ticket items and take risks. To get an idea of how Americans feel, Fortune analyzed data from more than 30 surveys conducted since the start of the crisis by Civis Analytics.
We have found that Americans are a little more optimistic now than they were last spring, but they are still down. Even as vaccines have started rolling out, concerns about the virus remain high. In December, 53% of American adults said they were very concerned about COVID-19. That’s barely down from April 2020 – the peak of closings – when 57% shared that sentiment. One of the economic lessons of 2020 is that fearful consumers mean less economic activity. Simply put: we cannot fully recover until the virus and these fears are alleviated.
As for the active population, during the months of March and April, the country lost 22.2 million jobs. But as states began to reopen, the country saw 12.5 million jobs return between May and November. However, this initial recovery didn’t really reassure many of the minds. In April, 32% of American workers told Civis Analytics they were very concerned about losing their jobs. In December, that number was 28%.
What does this mean for businesses? On the one hand, a fearful employee might be less willing to take risks. This could mean passing on work projects that have great potential for failure. On the other hand, those big bets often turn into big profits that drive business results forward.
Among American adults, 56% in December said they were still very concerned about their local economy. It is despite, on paper at least, this being among the fastest recoveries in the history of the United States: The unemployment rate (6.7%) exceeded only 7% for six months, compared to 59 months during and after the Great Recession.
If this grim outlook persists, expect to see more Americans postpone big purchases, pass on job search opportunities, and even avoid that new venture they were considering.
* Methodology: Civis Analytics conducted more than 30 surveys between March 20 and December 18. Each survey received over 1,000 responses. The results were weighted according to age, race, gender, education and geography.
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