This pandemic has been hard on every Vermonter — some more than others.
We see from the headlines on these pages there are lots of individuals who are out of work, and there are many businesses that are having difficulty finding qualified workers.
What we know, from the demands put on food shelves and community resources, is that more and more Vermonters are struggling.
By no means are we alone.
According to a poll released this week, while most Americans have weathered the pandemic financially, about 38 million say they are worse off now than before the outbreak began.
Overall, 55% of Americans say their financial circumstances are about the same now as a year ago, and 30% say their finances have improved, according to a new poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But 15% say they are worse off.
The problem is more pronounced at lower-income levels: 29% of Americans living below the federal poverty line say their personal finances worsened in the past year. Roughly that many also find themselves in a deepening financial hole, saying they struggled to pay bills during the past three months.
More people are living paycheck to paycheck, and those people who have jobs should feel grateful to have them. Why? The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy — the United States still has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck.
Here in Vermont, to address some of that need, the Department for Children and Families announced what 3SquaresVT recipients will be getting in April and May, owing to an increase in funding from the federal Coronavirus Relief Bill and Consolidated Appropriations Act.
These are not permanent changes, but they are appreciable. Households will receive the maximum benefit allowed depending on their size: one person, $234; two people, $430; three people, $616; four people, $782; five people, $929; six people, $1,114; seven people, $1,232; each additional person, plus $176. (Recipients don’t need to do anything to receive the added funds. All who are eligible will get it automatically.)
It has taken a lot to prop up the nation — job or no job, assistance or no assistance.
The government has passed three major relief bills in response, which included direct economic relief payments to individuals. That has helped ease the suffering of some.
The latest round of government payments — $1,400 to individuals — were sent out beginning last month. Households on average are using, or plan to use, about one-third of the money to pay down debt, about 25% on spending and put the rest into savings, according to a report released last week from the New York Federal reserve. That closely mirrored spending of prior relief payments.
Overall, the Impact Genome/AP-NORC poll found 52% of Americans say they were able to save money for most of the past three months, while 37% broke even and 10% were short on paying bills. Among Americans living below the poverty line, 29% say they struggled to pay bills recently, while just 16% have saved. By comparison, 61% of those living far above the poverty line say they have been able to save.
The poll found many Americans — nearly a third — had not had investment or similar long-term savings accounts set up even before the pandemic. Another 19% say they have been able to add more to investments like a 401(k) or a college savings plan, and 38% say the amount hasn’t changed compared to last year.
Also, there are wide racial disparities, with 57% of white Americans, 47% of Hispanics and just 39% of Black Americans saying they have saved recently. Black and Hispanic Americans are about twice as likely as white Americans to say they have come up short on bill payments.
All of this translates to one thing: anxiety. How do you overcome it?
According to the Pew Research Center, of those whose finances suffered during the pandemic, 44% think it will take them three years or more to get back to their pre-pandemic economic situation.
If you’ve lost income during the last year, or even if your finances have been relatively stable, now — as the economy seems poised for a comeback — is a good time to take stock of your relationship with your money. Business owners will tell you they had to adapt (and make sacrifices). It may be we all need to do the same thing with our personal budgets. There are plenty of organizations across Vermont offering personal finance advice (and the internet has even more).
Be smart. Be cautious. Don’t live beyond your means. And ask for advice or counsel. These are tricky waters. We need all the help we can get.