Americans felt confident in their finances – but not anymore.

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Before COVID-19 knocked at the door, 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for most Americans financially.

According to a January Gallup poll, 59% of Americans said they were doing better financially than they were a year ago. It was the highest percentage Gallup had ever recorded.[1]

But then the pandemic hit, taking American confidence down with stock market crashes and unemployment rates. Here’s how the country’s attitude has evolved month by month.


COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, but America didn’t hear much about it until 2020.[2] Still, among tensions between Iran and the U.S. [3] and the global eye on Australian wildfires, the disease seemed far away at the start of the year.[4]

In addition to almost 60% of Americans reporting financial stability to Gallup, the company also found that three-quarters of Americans predicted they would be better off financially in 2021. That’s the highest recorded statistic since 1977, the January poll said.

A Bankrate poll reported similar optimism. [5] In a December 2019 survey, 43% of Americans said they believe their financial situation would improve in 2020.

About 49% of this number expected to make more at work in the new year and 28% anticipated receiving better returns from savings and investments.

But this optimism for 2020 wouldn’t last for long.


In February, things began to change. On Feb. 24, the U.S. stock market experienced its worst plunge in two years. [6] Two days later, California announced the first case of COVID-19 in America [7] – and then on Feb. 29, the first American died from the disease in Washington state. [8]

This is when Americans began to worry. According to a survey by market research company Ipsos, 37% of Americans reported in late February that they believed COVID-19 would have an effect on their personal finances. That was 13% more than the numbers recorded in early February.

A sense of hopelessness accompanied it, too. About 64% of Americans said that it was impossible to forecast what would happen with the disease.

A February Bankrate survey also found that 45% of respondents believed that it was more important to save up for emergencies than to pay off debt.[9]

Almost 50% said they have more emergency savings than credit card debt, but that’s a lower figure than previous years, which reached from 51 to 58%.


March was when COVID-19 became an everyday reality for Americans. President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package on March 6, [10] and later signed [11] the $2 billion CARES Act on March 27.

The polls reflected this change in attitude, too. Almost 50% of Americans said the outbreak has had either a “somewhat negative” or “very negative” impact on their personal finances, according to a March National Financial Educators Council survey. [12]

But they were not just worried about the present – they were also worried about what’s to come. About 43% said they are “very concerned” about the pandemic having a negative impact on their finances in the next three months.

And some people expected this will affect the entire country. According to survey data collected by credit consolidation company Tally from March 11 to March 13, 76% of Americans said they were worried the pandemic would trigger an economic recession.

About 45% also said they planned to save up cash just in case.


In April, states like Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia enacted stay-at-home orders. By the end of the month, America’s death toll reached over 60,000 [13], and over 26 million people filed for unemployment insurance. [14]

And the country’s finances weren’t doing much better. Around 72% of Americans admitted that the pandemic has affected their finances, according to an April Business Insider poll. [15]

Of that number, 11% said that they are unsure if they can continue to meet basic needs due to “serious financial hardship.”

An April Pew Research Center poll also revealed that only 23% of low-income Americans have savings that could cover them for three months in the event of sickness, job loss or economic plunge. [16]

And all across the country, 43% of Americans reported that they or someone in their household has lost a job or suffered pay cuts due to the pandemic.

Only about a quarter of adults say that economic conditions are excellent. That number was 57% at the beginning of the year.

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About the Author

Hope Dean

Hope Dean

Hope Dean is a senior studying journalism at the University of Florida. She works as the enterprise editor at the Independent Florida Alligator and previously worked at the Florida Atlantic University student-run newspaper the University Press as the news, features and managing editor.

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