Virus Still Seen as Threat; Consumer Optimism Slows
Southwestern Pennsylvanians don’t believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but continuing to wear a mask is something fewer and fewer are willing to do, a new survey suggests.
Meanwhile, consumer confidence in the local economy dipped in June and optimism among residents about their personal financial situations fell for the first time this year.
The monthly survey asks 5,000 residents in 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties for their views on the economy and issues related to work, business and the pandemic. It is conducted by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Schmidt Market Research.
The first half of the year has seen the roll out of effective COVID vaccines and a sharp decline in new cases. More recently, COVID cases in the region, state and nation have begun to rise again as new variants of the virus have taken hold, social distancing restrictions have been eased and the rate of people being vaccinated has declined.
Nearly 9 in 10 southwestern Pennsylvania residents believe the pandemic has not yet run its course. And 34 percent expect the region to experience a virus resurgence this winter.
But wearing a mask is something fewer residents plan to go back to after more than a year of having to don them in most places outside of their homes. Only 14 percent say they plan to always wear a mask when indoors, down from 29 percent a month earlier. Only 2 percent say they’ll mask in a public park. And only 52 percent say they’re willing to wear a mask even if a business or situation requires it.
Some 41 percent of people surveyed felt good about their employment situation in June, which was down slightly from May. It marked the first time since January that job-related optimism failed to rise.
The survey also suggests the pandemic and recession continue to disrupt employment dynamics in the region. In June, 11 percent of those surveyed voluntarily changed jobs, up from 5 percent in May.
The biggest reason was better pay, which was what convinced 31 percent of those who changed jobs to make the move. Other top reasons include opportunities to work in what they feel is a better industry for them, better work hours, more flexibility and an easier commute.
Throughout the pandemic, residents have felt more confident about their personal financial outlook than their job situation or ability to spend. In June, that confidence waned with 52 percent saying they feel good about financial situation compared to 57 percent in May.
And confidence in the regional economy, which had been growing since January, hit a wall in June, when only 39 percent of residents said they felt good about it, slightly less than a month before.
Meanwhile, the survey suggests workers are moving closer to resuming pre-COVID normalcy. Comfort levels for returning to in-person work situations have improved significantly since March. More than 65 percent of workers feel ready to go back to the office.
Emerging trends also appear to offer local restaurants battered by pandemic restrictions a bit of encouragement. Comfort levels for dining out have increased steadily. In June, 73 percent of those surveyed said they’re comfortable taking a business lunch at a restaurant. In March, only 39 percent were comfortable enough to consider doing that.