Laid-off workers more likely to say country should focus on stopping the spread of COVID-19 than reopening soon

Via WaPo, not what I would have expected.

There are lots of things driving that result, I’d guess. One is plain old-fashioned fear. Most doctors, including Anthony Fauci in testimony today before the Senate, are palpably concerned about a second wave triggered by reopening prematurely. That’s bound to influence workers, even ones who really need the money.

Two is the fact that many laid-off employees don’t actually need wages right now, as they’re getting beefed-up unemployment benefits from their federal and state governments. Although be careful about putting too much stock in that as an explanation: In this poll 60 percent said they’ve received benefits but 40 percent have not, yet nearly 80 percent think government should prioritize stopping the spread over reopening. It’s just not the case that everyone who’s leery of going back to work at the moment is living large on the taxpayer dime. And to the extent that unemployment might seem momentarily more attractive than employment, remember that that’s partially by design during phase one of the epidemic. One way to slow the spread is to take pressure off of people to crowd into workspaces before it’s reasonably safe to do so.

Three is this:

Workers aren’t expecting/hoping for a long lockdown. Two-thirds of them are anticipating having a job within two months. They just want to return to an environment that’s less risky than scientists seem to think the current environment is, I suspect. Consider too that workers who have been laid off are more likely to be lower-paid, and that lower-paid jobs typically involve more face-to-face contact with the general public. People who’ve been furloughed may have special reason to believe that the nature of their work — waitstaff, cashier, all manner of service industry jobs — will put them at special risk once they’re back on the job.

Still, I’m surprised that the number that favor prioritizing stopping the spread is as high as 79 percent. Since it’s retirees who have the most to fear health-wise from coronavirus, one would think people of working age who’ve been laid off would be more willing to reopen than the general population. Although maybe my logic is backwards — maybe retirees are more comfortable with reopening precisely because they’re not the one who are going to be forced to return to a possibly unsafe workplace when restrictions are lifted. Either way, Megan McArdle’s right that the idea of blue-collar everyday Americans leading the “reopen now” push smells like nonsense in light of this data. It’s not the average joe who’s raring to return to work, seized by the populist spirit of being “warriors” against the virus or whatever. It’s the average joe’s boss.

WaPo also polled people in various states about how they rate their governor’s performance in handling the outbreak. The best-rated governor was a Republican, Mike DeWine of Ohio, who moved aggressively to shut things down early and has now begun tentatively moving towards reopening. He’s at 86/14(!). The worst-rated governor among the states tested is also a Republican. That’s Brian Kemp of Georgia, who managed to aggravate Democrats by moving to reopen early but also earned a public rebuke from Trump for reopening certain risky service businesses like nail salons, which may have soured Trumpist Republicans in Georgia on him. Kemp currently stands at … 39/61. All in all, Democratic governors rate more highly than Republicans: “In states led by Democratic governors, 75 percent approve of their handling of the outbreak, including 91 percent of Democratic-leaning residents, as well as 54 percent of those who lean Republican. In Republican-led states, 67 percent of people give positive ratings to governors, including 80 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats.”

It could be that Democratic voters are more loyal to governors from their party than Republicans are to governors from theirs, but I think the slight imbalance here is more likely due to policy. Democratic governors are more likely to take a cautious approach to reopening, which is also the approach favored by most of the public. For instance, even in this poll Republicans (and leaners) were split almost evenly on whether closing businesses to contain the virus should be top priority or whether reopening should be. Republicans just aren’t as gung-ho to reopen now as Democrats are to go slowly.

All of this will change with time. As noted above, even workers who prefer focusing on the virus right now are anticipating only a month or two more of being laid off. But for now, the public’s preference is clear.

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