While Waiting for the Official Figures, Significant Increase in American Conversation about Job Loss

As COVID-19 spreads across the United States, businesses are closing, employees are getting laid off, and Americans are trying to figure out how to weather the storm as localities instruct people to socially-distance themselves and shelter-in-place.

With such rapid developments and the new normal now a moving target, we turn to other data sources absent any official account of where employment numbers are.

Looking at the Ipsos Biosurveillance Atlas, which tracks social media conversations, discussions of COVID-19 related business closures in the United States in the past month are concentrated in Southern California, Florida, and Washington.

For context, the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus was found in the Seattle area, and fanned out on the West coast. The fact that the volume of mentions in these places is higher tracks with how long these areas have been dealing with the crisis. Seattle and Los Angles were among the first places to shut businesses and close schools in the United States.

Social media posts mentioning COVID-19 “business closures” gathered and analyzed using Ipsos Biosurveillance Atlas
Social media posts mentioning COVID-19 “business closures” gathered and analyzed using Ipsos Biosurveillance Atlas

Though as the virus has moved through the United States, New York City and the surrounding counties are now the epicenter of the crisis. Nationwide, less than 8% of people who are tested for COVID-19 are positive, in New York 28% of people who are tested for COVID-19 are positive.

With the virus spiraling in New York, officials have struggled to keep up. Only this weekend were all non-essential businesses completely shut down. Business closings, particularly for restaurant and retail, means people are getting laid off. We will be tracking to see how conversations in the tri-state area change around these issues.

Source: Ipsos Biosurveillance Atlas

Overall, public opinion polling and Google search trends back up what we are seeing on our social media trackers. Axios/Ipsos polling found that in a week the number of people who were furloughed or told not to work doubled, accounting for about 1 in 5 Americans. ABC/Ipsos polling picked up a six-point spike in reported unemployment in a week.

Google searches for “unemployment benefits” have soared, crashing the government website as people try to file jobless claims. Google estimates that by March’s end searches for “unemployment benefits” will have surpassed levels of interest that, during the financial crisis, took three-months to hit, pointing to how quickly many people are being put out of work.

As we wait for official numbers, bracing for the worst seems part of the new normal.




Presenting original analysis of public opinion research on politics and society from the world’s third-largest market research firm, with a particular focus on the 2020 United States elections. For more information, visit: https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/news-and-polls/overview

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Sarah Feldman

Sarah Feldman

Data journalist @ipsos writing about American public opinion.

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