Study Finds Pandemic Disrupted 60% Of US Adults’ Finances

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An empty hospital bed sits inside the former Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients
An empty hospital bed sits inside the former Intensive Care Unit for COVID-19 patients at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, April 12, 2022. Picture taken April 12, 2022.

Sixty percent of adults report that the COVID-19 pandemic was "highly disruptive" to their finances as the health crisis enters its third year.

And while experts predict another 100 million COVID-19 cases to sweep across the U.S. this fall and winter, the adults surveyed reported having adapted to the changing economic environment the pandemic brought.

"COVID-19 is by no means behind us, but these findings suggest a meaningful number of people have turned a corner," said Christian Mitchell, executive vice president & chief customer officer at Northwestern Mutual.

Northwestern Mutual conducted the 2022 Planning & Progress Study, which surveyed the attitudes and behaviors of 2,381 adults in the U.S. between Feb. 8-17 on issues regarding money, financial decision-making, and long-term financial security. A good portion of those, 48%, answered that they adapted to the pandemic economy.

Many struggled during the initial onset of the pandemic in 2020. However, 43% say they made up for the lost ground incurred during that initial year. That could be because many also reported better financial habits.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they have better financial habits now than pre-pandemic. Three-quarters of them expect to maintain those habits going forward. One of those habits includes building up personal savings.

"This is an adaptation story – people have adjusted to the many ways the world has changed over the last two years and have emerged with some different financial priorities, habits and points of view," Mitchell said.

Over the last two years, 60% of respondents said they built up their personal savings. Of those surveyed, 69% of them said they planned to maintain their savings going forward. However, compared to last year's study, respondents have less of a desire to maintain their financial habits developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"...Progress doesn't always follow a straight line – there's been a little wobble in people's behaviors compared to last year," Mitchell added.

Average savings dropped 15% between 2021 and 2022 from around $73,000 to $62,000. Also, while a significant three-quarters (73%) of respondents expect to maintain their better financial habits, that is down from 95% in 2021.

In addition, among all of the behaviors respondents reported having adapted in 2021 — including reducing living costs/spending, paying down debt, increasing investing, increasing use of tech to manage finances, and regularly revisiting financial plans — fewer respondents reported having adapting those behaviors in 2022.

Still, while respondents seem confident in their own or their advisors’ ability to help maintain their financial comfort, they report less confidence in outside factors. Only 43% answered that the U.S. economy is strong and 35% said that inflation would subside in 2022. 

Many believe that Social Security will be available to them (56%) when needed and that the “American Dream is alive and well” (55%). However, inflation (41%), the economy (39%), and healthcare costs (22%) are key concerns reported by respondents that are often beyond people’s control.

American flag at half staff over the White House to mark 1 million killed by COVID-19
The American flag is seen flying at half staff over the White House to honor the 1 million U.S. citizens killed by COVID-19 since the pandemic began in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2022.
Photo: Reuters / LEAH MILLIS

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