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Research and Statistics

COVID-shaken consumers dial up debt as they stockpile supplies: poll

A mid-March survey reveals U.S. adults concerned about losing their jobs were likely to spend more on emergency goods


As the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, almost half of American workers were concerned they might lose work, according to a new poll. For many, stocking up on household supplies has led to taking on debt.

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As the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, almost half of American workers were concerned they might lose work. And for many, stocking up on household supplies has led to taking on debt.

The nonpartisan research institution NORC at the University of Chicago surveyed U.S. working adults in mid-March. Among them, 49% were at least somewhat concerned they might be laid off or unable to work due to coronavirus impacts.

Consequently, 55% of all respondents said they had or planned to buy extra household “emergency” goods. Those concerned about losing their job were slightly more likely, at 60%.

See related: Poll: 23% of consumers added to their debt during the pandemic

The job-concerned respondents were also likely to spend more, with 4 in 10 (40%) predicting their emergency supply spending would exceed $200. Only 22% of those not concerned about their jobs indicated they would spend that much.

To pay for these unexpected expenses, more than a quarter of respondents reported they would take on debt, with 20% saying they would charge the expenses to credit cards they weren’t sure they’d be able to pay off in full when due. Another 7% said they would cover the costs with a short-term loan, such as a payday or title loan.

Almost a third (31%) said they would need to dip into savings they had been planning to use for something else. And 29% said they would divert money from other monthly expenses to cover the extra supplies.

NORC’s survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,003 English-speaking adults age 18 and over by phone and the web. Administered from March 12-16, NORC released its results in late March.

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