Americans are fed up with the pandemic, inflation, and shortages.
SOPA Images/Getty Images
Americans are miserable. They’re sick of the pandemic and hate the economy.
That’s despite vaccines, economic growth, and lingering savings from pandemic stimulus.
Rising prices, uncertainties, and shortages of goods have trapped Americans in a cycle of anxiety.
Americans are miserable.
They’re more miserable than they have been in half a century. New data from the General Social Survey — an ongoing study from NORC at the University of Chicago that’s one of the most influential social projects in the US — found that the percentage of Americans feeling “very happy” plunged from 32% in 2018 to 19% in 2021, as Americans feeling “not too happy” soared from 13 to 24% in the same time frame.
After all, we are heading into our second year of the pandemic. While vaccines have enabled us to resume a sense of normality, new variants have kept us on our toes throughout 2021 to the point of exhaustion. We’re sick of parenting during a pandemic, and waiting in the cold to get tested, and dealing with canceled travel plans.
But the misery is also entrenched in our perception of the economy. Americans’ economic hopes plummeted to decade lows in January in the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index. And in a Gallup poll of 811 US adults last month, only 33% said they were satisfied with the economy. Gallup said this signaled a broader dissatisfaction with policies and society as a whole.
The discontent is at odds with an economy that’s looking rather bright. We’re in the middle of the fastest economic expansion since 1984, evidenced by strides in productivity and hiring. But most Americans don’t follow the data that measures these things. Instead, they’re stuck at home, worried about rising prices, shortages, work, and childcare, and unable to travel, buy a home, or resume their social lives. Nearly every aspect of the American dream is in jeopardy, and Americans are not OK.
Ed Coambs, a financial therapist in North Carolina, pointed to a split in awareness between the numbers touted by economists and government officials on the evening news and how people live.
“Many people, in my experience, do not track macroeconomic trends,” he told Insider. “Many people track their lived experience and what is personally important to them.”
And that’s put America in a really bad mood.
Wages in the US have risen this year at the fastest rate since 1983. Plus, some Americans are still sitting on a savings stash a year after the last stimulus check went out.
But no one seems to care.
That’s because this all comes at a time when inflation is lingering at its highest level since 1982. George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, told Insider incomes were starting to rise as a result of the labor shortage and a lot of Americans felt they had the opportunity to improve their situations.
“But one second later, it’s grabbed away from them,” he said, adding that this made inflation extra frustrating. “The things they would like to use their money for, like cars and houses, are all of a sudden scarce and expensive.”
In the fight of inflation versus wages, inflation is winning.
It’s especially painful for lower-income Americans who can no longer bank on pandemic relief. About one-third of their earnings goes to essentials like food and energy, which have been some of inflation’s biggest victims. People are disgruntled about shelling out more for milk and bread.
The rich aren’t happy either. Loewenstein likened inflation to a wealth tax for them as they watch the value of their savings shrink. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that interest rates haven’t risen with inflation, he said, though the Fed has hinted at raising interest rates as soon as March in an effort to cool down prices. But that still comes at a cost, in the form of much pricier credit cards and loans.
Short on everything
Americans are showing their misery in their behavior. Hyperinflation leads to “mad spending patterns,” Loewenstein said, but he doesn’t think we’ve gotten to that point yet. That hasn’t prevented Americans from spending more on goods than ever before. It’s one of the many factors jamming up the supply chain, prompting even higher price hikes in an endless cycle.
The supply shortage — also a result of factory shutdowns, congested shipping ports, the US-China trade war, bad weather, and global traffic jams — has threatened the “just-in-time economy” of the 2000s. Americans are not only paying more for goods but also waiting longer for them.
It’s just as frustrating as the housing shortage in a market that’s been no match for demand. Unaffordable prices and a lack of starter homes have boxed many aspiring homebuyers, particularly millennials, out of their homeownership dreams.
This era of shortages has left Americans struggling to accept that the American dream that is no longer attainable. And Omicron — and its new BA.2 version — has dampened their spirits.
Life and work suck
Things aren’t looking much better at work. An average of 4 million of Americans have been quitting our jobs every month since April, fed up with burnout, lack of flexibility, low wages, and poor benefits for parents.
Working is even more difficult when you have a child to raise. The Omicron surge has led to school closures, a shortage of tests, and increased hospitalizations among children. That means parents are back to juggling filing a report for the boss with making their child some lunch. It’s even worse for parents of children under the age of 5, who are still ineligible for the vaccine. As parent of two, Melissa Petro wrote in an essay for Insider, “Parenting through a pandemic is basically impossible.”
Any attempt to have some semblance of fun in all this pandemic mess has been disrupted. Want to get tested so you can safely see friends and family? You might have a hard time finding a test at drugstores or a local testing site without a line that wraps around the block. Many of those who tested negative and made holiday travel plans ended up missing their vacation or getting stuck there instead, thanks to thousands of canceled flights as Omicron swept through the industry.
To be sure, there are signs of a turnaround. Omicron cases have appeared to peak, spending on goods is easing in favor of services, job openings ticked up in December, and economists predict rent and housing prices may slow.
But as long as we’re stuck in a version of “Groundhog Day,” Americans are going to be feeling economic anxiety.
Economy, Markets, labor shortage, Supply Shortage, Housing Shortage, great resignation, Inflation, Economy, Financial Behavior, Consumer spending, analysis
All Content from Business Insider