Personal finance

The Delta variant is causing many Americans to lose income. Here’s what to do if you’re one of them

Food is served at an outdoor restaurant in New York, August 3, 2021.
Caitlin Ochs | Reuters

As the Delta variant has wound its way through the U.S., signs show it is also hitting the wallets of some Americans.

A new report from Morning Consult finds that the Delta variant is spurring pay or income losses that have not yet shown up in the weekly unemployment insurance claims data.

That is according to its weekly Lost Pay/Income Tracker, which measures the share of U.S. adults who are currently experiencing income and pay losses.

The tracker was established in April 2020, and asks an average of 20,000 adults each week whether they are experiencing lost pay or income.

The latest results are pointing to increased financial strain among workers. For the week ending Sept. 11, the share reporting lost pay or income has risen to 13%. That’s up from a pandemic low of 11.4% for the week ending Aug. 14.

Those who are most likely to be taking a financial hit right now are people employed in service industries. Food and beverage workers are most likely to have seen losses in pay or income at 25.7%, up from 19.1% in the past four weeks. Leisure and hospitality workers are also likely to have seen significant drops in income, with 19.5%, according to the latest data.

Those sectors tend to have more hourly jobs that can change quickly due to the pandemic, said Jesse Wheeler, economic analyst at Morning Consult. Due to the face-to-face nature of many of those businesses, they are particularly susceptible to government-issued mandates and other restrictions.

“They’re more vulnerable, and we’ve seen their vulnerability increase in the last couple of weeks,” Wheeler said.

The unemployment numbers released on Thursday showed weekly jobless claims increased to 332,000, up 20,000 from the prior week. Meanwhile, the August jobs report released earlier this month showed just 235,000 positions were added, compared to expectations of 720,000.

This latest income drop comes as enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits ended earlier this month. While weekly checks are now reduced, some people who were previously eligible, such as gig workers, can no longer file claims.

If the current trends in the Lost Pay/Income Tracker hold, that could lead to a disappointing September jobs report, Wheeler said.

If signs of a slowdown in the labor market persist, that could affect Federal Reserve policy, particularly with the timing of its plans to taper asset purchases, Wheeler said.

Admittedly, that will not help people who are suffering a loss of income now.

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But there are steps that someone who is currently unemployed or facing reduced work can take to shore up their finances, according to Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners.

The big thing that Sun said she tells anyone to do is Google “Covid financial assistance” with your location turned on. That way, you can search for federal, state and local programs that may be able to help you that were not even on your radar, she said.

While many people tend to reduce their budgets starting with smaller expenses like Netflix subscriptions, the key is to actually begin with the biggest costs, Sun said.

Take a look at your living costs and assess whether you can save money by moving in with a loved one, family member or friend. Alternatively, you may be able to have a roommate move in to help reduce your overhead.

If you live in a two-car household, consider whether you might be able to sell a car or rent it out.

If you know you will need health insurance, explore what is available to you beyond just COBRA.

(The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to continue group health benefits under certain circumstances.)

One way to discover new ways of obtaining coverage is to ask your primary care providers, Sun suggested.

“Oftentimes, they will know other low cost options that you haven’t even thought about,” Sun said.

While some adjustments may be unwelcome, it is important to remember they are temporary until things get back to normal, she said.

One key thing that should be a last resort is withdrawing money from your retirement accounts. “I wouldn’t touch that if you could,” Sun said.

Instead, focus on adding income where you can and reducing your recurring bills.

Also, do not be afraid to consult a professional, like an accountant or a financial advisor.

“So often people think that you should only be talking to us when you have a lot of income and you’re able to invest, and that’s actually not true,” Sun said.

Seeking the help of a professional you trust may help to identify government programs for which you may qualify or resources you had not even thought of using during this time.

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