Expectations shifting as people adapt to 'new normal' - survey

More Australians are experiencing financial stress but there are some signs of optimism about the duration of pandemic-induced economic conditions, the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey shows.

The findings also show Australians are now preparing to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ including considering wearing face masks in public.

The Taking the Pulse of the Nation weekly survey by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians living through the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The 10th wave of the survey was conducted from 8-12 June.

The survey shows that slightly more people are experiencing mental distress and that the proportion of Australians reporting financial stress increased substantially across most states, reversing the previous week’s drop.

Financial stress has risen for those in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups, with the proportion experiencing difficulties paying for essential goods and services increasing by 18 and 14 percentage points respectively.

Melbourne Institute researcher Professor Guay Lim said this could reflect people’s recognition that for many, work may be at less than full capacity for a while.

“Employers and employees need to adjust to post-subsidy conditions as the JobKeeper, JobSeeker and childcare support schemes are only temporary measures,” Professor Lim said.

Results show people are changing their expectations of the duration of the economic impact of the pandemic, with 48 per cent of people reporting they think the duration of the impact will be longer than 12 months, down from 55 per cent in early June. The proportion of those who think it will be less than one year rose to 49 per cent, up from 41 per cent in early June.

As social and economic interactions increase, the proportion of respondents reporting that many people in their neighbourhood follow recommendations on physical distancing fell from 71 per cent in week 8 to 59 per cent in week 10.

In the latest survey, respondents were also asked for their opinions about whether people should wear a face mask in various public places. Twice as many respondents were in favour of wearing masks on public transport (58 per cent yes compared to 28 per cent no) and in cinemas and theatres (58 per cent yes compared to 31 per cent no).

In contrast, twice as many respondents were against wearing masks in parks and at beaches (27 per cent yes to 63 per cent no). They were evenly divided when it came to the importance of wearing masks at work, in supermarkets and shopping centres.

In a Research Insight paper published this week, Melbourne Institute economist Susan Wieczkiewicz said regulation to enforce the wearing of masks in situations when physical distancing is unfeasible such as on public transport, would help reduce transmission. It would also raise awareness of the need for ongoing vigilance.

“This will encourage a safer and more confident return to work and social activity, essential for an economic recovery,” says Ms Wieczkiewicz.

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey on our tracker page.

Media enquiries: Linda McSweeny | + 61 466 696 941 | linda.mcsweeny@unimelb.edu.au

*The weekly survey by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne contains responses from 1200 people aged 18 years and over, with the sample stratified by gender, age and location to represent the Australian population.