Survey: 25% of Kansans say they’ve faced economic hardships during COVID-19 pandemic

A sign outside the French Market in Prairie Village earlier in the pandemic. (File photo.)

By Tim Carpenter 

One-fourth of Kansas households have experienced serious problems during the COVID-19 pandemic covering essential costs like food, utility and medical bills and dealing with obligations of loans and credit card debt.

That was among findings of a sweeping statewide survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University conducted annually to check the pulse of Kansans on economic, political and social issues. Amid the coronavirus crisis factoring in the death of more than 1,000 Kansans, the survey was adjusted to include examination of the financial stability of individual households and to drill down on public attitudes about vaccines, masks and political leadership.

“Fairly sobering results,” Brett Zollinger, director of the Docking Institute, said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “We have overall about 25%, around a quarter of Kansans, you know express thatat some point since the start of the coronavirus they’ve had a serious problem in affording food, affording medical care, paying utilities, paying credit cards and loan debt.”

Jobs lost, wages and hours reduced

Zollinger said more than 19% of survey respondents had challenges dealing with car payments and nearly 19% struggled to make rent or mortgage payments.

In addition, 37% of respondents revealed household members had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak in March. Twenty-three percent said an individual in the household had lost a job, 14% were furloughed and 13% compelled to take unpaid leave. The survey showed 5% said they had lost a business in the first six months of the pandemic.

The survey indicated these financial hardships were experienced more frequently by women, people under age 45 and in households with annual incomes below $50,000, Zollinger said.

“It‘s not necessarily surprising, but something that we ought to I think keep an eye on for sure. Our elected officials at the state level need to know this and need to be thinking about it,” he said.

The 2020 edition of Kansas Speaks was conducted online from Sept. 21 to Oct. 1. A panel of 417 adult residents of Kansas age 18 and older participated in the poll.

Overwhelming majority say they wear masks

Zollinger said 93% of people involved in this survey said they wore a mask when they went into stores, three of 10 didn’t believe a face covering would alter course of coronavirus.

In addition, one third of people in the poll felt danger of the virus had been severely exaggerated. And 27% endorsed the idea of “herd immunity,” an idea challenged by medical professionals because it contemplats bulkd of the U.S. population contracting the virus and potentially overwhelming hospitals and escalating the death total.

“In one way, it’s heartening I suppose from a public health perspective,” he said. “Then potentially, you know, there’s some disturbing news there from a public health perspective, in a relatively small percentage who disagree.”

He said younger people were less likely to agree that a mask was necessary, but that group could have fewer secondary health issues making them vulnerable to COVID-19.

In terms of a vaccine for the coronavirus, 28% said they were unwilling to take the vaccine. Forty-one percent said they would get vaccinated when a treatment for the virus was approved. Nearly one-third of respondents were undecided on the subject.

The people responding to Fort Hays State University’s poll gave highest marks in terms of providing credible information during the pandemic to Anthony Fauci, an immunologist who has beemm director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. In the survey, 51.5% said they strongly approved or approved of Fauci’s insights.

Other approval numbers in terms of COVID-19: Gov. Laura Kelly, 47.5%; President Donald Trump, 42.9%; Kansas Legislature, 26.7%; and U.S. Congress, 16.9%. In terms of the job done by the respondent’s city leaders, 43.3% had a favorable view. That was slightly better than the 38.6% rating for county governments of those taking part in the survey.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.