Understanding Society: Americans begin to test drive a “new normal”

April 7, 2021 — As America begins to emerge from the pandemic, Americans work to figure out their own ‘new normal.’

Stories this week:

All are not equally catching the economic boom

People at the top of the income distribution continue to express the greatest economic confidence, but people at the bottom have started finally making gains as well.

At the start of the pandemic, all Americans — rich and poor alike — experienced a major decline in their economic confidence. Starting last summer, upper-income Americans started feeling better, but people at the bottom mostly remained stuck in the same place. Only in the last few months have Americans at the bottom started feeling consistently more optimistic.

The dangers of a K-shape recovery still loom large over the pandemic. The pandemic hurt some more than others. In part, because of this, many economists worry that macroeconomic growth could be stifled in a recovery where top-earners bounce back and low-wage workers are left behind.

How Americans plan to spend their stimulus check

After the third round of stimulus payments hit Americans’ bank accounts, recent polling from the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index finds that most people are saving their money for future use, but the unequal impact of the pandemic on low-wage workers is also evident here.

Beyond saving, some notable differences appear in how low-wage and high-wage workers use their checks. People making less than $50k are twice as likely as those making over $100k to use their stimulus checks for basic household needs, like paying their rent or mortgage and buying food.

Even as unemployment falls and signs of a robust recovery ahead appear, these findings highlight how the pandemic continues to hurt those most vulnerable, creating different needs for different communities as recovery gets underway.

Americans are going out, vaccinated or not

As the weather warms up and spring kicks into full gear — and the vaccine is getting into more arms — more people are leaving their homes.

The most recent Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index found that fifty-five percent of people visited friends or relatives recently, a pandemic-era high. The tracker also picked up another record: 47% of people received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And, while social activity is on the rise, it’s not necessarily happening exclusively among people who have started the vaccination process. When it comes to visiting friends or family or going out to eat, unvaccinated people are just as likely as those with at least one shot to engage in activity outside of the home. This development marks a notable shift from earlier in the winter when people who begun the vaccination process were not as comfortable leaving their homes.

The uptick in social activity comes at the start of what public health experts warn is a fourth wave of COVID-19 infection, prompting some to express concern about the development and spread of new virus variants.

Americans are getting reacquainted with themselves

Since last year, many Americans are now more comfortable living in a digital world, though that’s leaving some feeling less connected to the people in their life, according to the Ipsos Consumer Coronavirus Tracker.

Now, about one in three Americans feel more comfortable with virtual interactions and are more interested in streaming services. A similar share (29%) feels more connected to people on social media than before the pandemic. This change in online behavior accelerated digital trends and interests among Americans, like the increasing use of OTT platforms and social media consumption.

But that cloistered life has a downside. Despite feeling less connected to others, a sizeable minority (35%) are still anxious to travel. About one in five feel less connected to their extended family (20%), their friends (23%), and their coworkers (21%), painting a picture of how this virtual-first world the pandemic crafted still leaves many wanting more but afraid to venture out fully.



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Sarah Feldman

Data journalist @ipsos writing about American public opinion.