Most people didn’t know how significant the COVID-19 pandemic was when it first struck.
The U.S. government and the World Health Organization declared a medical emergency in March 2020. In a matter of days, supplies of disinfectants, toilet paper, and masks were scarce. Ex-office workers traded their commutes for desk jobs and swapped them for sweatpants or video conferencing.
Workers in grocery stores, trucking, and janitorial jobs found themselves on “the front line” of a conflict they had never volunteered for. While students lost time at school, teachers and parents were left exhausted at home. Medical professionals faced exhaustion, dwindling supplies and illnesses while caring for sick patients.
Millions of people became ill from COVID in the months, years, and days that followed those initial lockdowns. While most people recovered, Centers for Disease Control data shows that more than a million people died in the United States and nearly 7 million worldwide. We have slowly come to terms with the virus through medical interventions and vaccines. This has created a new normal.
The White House will likely end the pandemic in May. COVID-19 is still a threat and many of the social changes it has spawned will likely continue to be repercussions. These are just a few of the many ways that the pandemic has changed how we live, work, save, travel, and spend our money.
It has changed how we work
Workers at work don’t want their jobs to end. Employers realized that all employees required was an internet connection and a laptop in order to run their businesses after offices were closed.
The ghost towns of once-bustling cities became ghost towns. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the percentage of people who work from home has tripled between 2019 and 2021. This data also revealed that the lowest ever percentage of workers commute by public transport. LinkedIn data shows that remote jobs have seen a 457% increase in postings from 2020 to 2021.
For a while, what was once considered a rare perk for job applicants had become the norm. Some employers closed their offices after the lockdown lifted. Others began to hire full-time employees or adopted hybrid models.
According to LinkedIn data, October 2022 data, more job seekers are looking for remote work than employers can supply. Although it’s not clear who will win, the unemployment rate is at an all-time low, employers might need to accommodate worker demands for flexibility.
There’s never been an easier time to change jobs. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, it reached 14.7% in April 2020. This was the highest level of unemployment since the U.S. started tracking.
The long and difficult process of reopening the country over the next few years was not easy for employers. This was due to the difficulty of finding workers, with the greatest challenges being in the hospitality industry, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. There were suddenly more jobs than there were people, and this trend has continued.
Federal data today shows that unemployment has fallen to a record low of more than 50 years. The steady rate of quits is a sign that workers feel comfortable switching jobs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women dropped out of work, but then recovered. In the second quarter 2020, the percentage of women working in the workforce fell to 47.5%. Even with the rebound in employment, there is still a gender gap. According to the latest figures, women are 11 points behind their male counterparts.
Women who are not employed lose out on income, retirement savings, and other vital benefits that can impact their personal finances. Women, especially those with young children, have seen a rise in the labor market and improved vaccine availability as they return to work.
Some workers retired before others, while some were unemployed. Millions of Americans were forced to work in difficult conditions or homebound when the pandemic began. Many of these workers, who were nearing retirement, decided to pull the trigger. This led to a boom of retirees. But not all of them remained in the workforce.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, there were 2.4 million people who had already retired or had already taken a break from work since the pandemic started in August 2021. There were many reasons people retired. Some had saved enough to be able stop working during the pandemic, while others had to quickly make a decision that they wanted to make over the next few years. Some chose to quit rather than return to dangerous or unsafe work environments.
Some people didn’t live long in retirement. According to Joblist, a job listing and research site, 27% of those who had retired during the pandemic returned to work simply because they needed more money to make it through their golden years. 21% of them said that they returned to work specifically in response to rising inflation and high prices of goods.
We have stopped going to places (for a while).
The world closed down and travel prices plummeted. But then, the market reopened and there was more demand. Spring 2020 saw a drop in hotel prices and airfares as people paused their travel. Workers in the travel sector lost their jobs and revenues dropped. Some destinations were even closed completely, including Disneyland which was closed for 412 consecutive days.
Experiences changed after reopening. Cleaning was a key focus for airlines and hotels. Elite status was extended to members of rewards programs. The cancellation policy that was previously so strict has been relaxed. The prices remained low through 2021.
Travel roared back in 2022. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the record-breaking travel prices reached their highest point in May 2022 due to rising demand and inflation.
Consumer price index data shows that although costs have fallen, they are still much higher than they were before the pandemic. However, this is not stopping travelers as many tourist destinations reported record numbers in 2022 and experts predict that more records will be broken in 2023 according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Credit cards were adapted for a stay at home world. We turned to DIY projects, cooking experiments, and binging on TV. Online shopping, home improvements, and grocery delivery were all added to or expanded on the incentives. Credit cards that offer dining rewards included delivery and takeout purchases. Travel credit cards also offer non-travel options for redeeming and earning points.
Everything became more expensive. Consumers with larger paychecks and better savings went out and bought goods and renovated their houses. They spent their travel money on food, tickets to the airport, and other services after travel was reopened.
Supply chain disruptions in the global supply chain caused higher prices for goods, and vice versa. The war in Ukraine in February 2022 caused further disruptions to supply chains, especially when it came energy prices.
Worldwide, oil and fuel prices rose dramatically, leading to a peak in June 2022. And, of course, there has been an ongoing avian influenza that has pushed up the cost of eggs and poultry.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the rate of inflation reached 9.1% in June 2022. This was the highest level in 40 years.
However, this high didn’t last for very long. Slowly, but surely, inflation rates dropped. According to the latest consumer price index, a proxy for inflation, the annual rate now stands at 6.4%.
The car market was turned upside-down. New car production fell due to supply chain issues, causing more car buyers to purchase used cars. Car buyers bought directly from the manufacturers or online because there was not enough inventory. Prices reached historic highs due to vehicle shortages. According to Cox Automotive, the average price of a new car is still close to $50,000 and $26,000 used.
While inventory of vehicles is increasing, auto loan interest rates are at their highest level in 20 years. More car buyers are expecting at least part of their car buying and financing experience to be done online in an effort to get the best deal.
So the Fed raised interest rates
Rates were increased. The rates were raised again. The Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate again and again as inflation rose. In order to raise interest rates, the intent is to make it more difficult for consumers to borrow money. Prices fall as spending falls and demand decreases.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell stated in September that there was no “painless” way to lower inflation. The Fed raised its funds rate seven times in 2022, and once in 2023.
The current rate of 6.4% is the lowest level of inflation. However, the Fed has a target of 2% so further hikes are possible.
It changed how we bought our homes
After the market was hot, it became less so in spring 2020. Many states considered home buying and selling an unnecessary service. Many Americans wanted to leave their homes, and the Fed’s March 2020 emergency rate cut made it possible to lower mortgage rates.
Investors and new buyers made huge moves as interest rates dropped and quarantines were lifted. This led to investors making big moves and even buying properties blindly. Many homeowners chose to refinance at historically low rates rather than putting their home on the market. Bidding wars, cash offers, waivers of contingencies, and other incentives became more common in a market with limited inventory. Skyrocketing home prices and mortgage interest rates hampered affordability, even though they fell to records. Buyers who were exhausted began to feel burnout.
The Federal Reserve was responsible for bringing down the housing market’s heat. It wasn’t low demand, low inventory or high prices. After the Fed raised rates in March 2022, mortgage interest rates rose rapidly. They had been trending upwards already and were quickly rising. Rates for 30-year fixed rate home loans rose to 7.08% in October 2022. This was more than four percentage point higher than their January 2021 low.
It has changed how is saved
The savings increased, fell, and then rebounded. Consumers were not spending as much, but they did spend less. Those who qualify for government stimulus cash received an injection of cash. These factors combined with higher wages led to record personal savings. Federal Reserve data shows that households have saved $2.3 trillion between 2020 and 2021.
Inflation began to erode the gains that households had made. According to Bureau of Economic Analysis data, the current savings rates are close to what they were in March 2008. Vanguard Group’s February report shows that 401(k), account holders are more likely to tap into their retirement savings in order to deal with financial difficulties in 2022.
There are some signs that personal savings may be back: Personal savings started to rise after hitting a 2.7% record in June 2022.
Credit scores rose. The ability to report positive rent, utility payments, and medical debt was made available to the public. Credit scores generally increased.
People had more money to pay off their debts because of the drop in consumer spending during the pandemic. The government issued three rounds to stimulate the economy, including forbearance of student loans and mortgages.
The three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion made credit reports free to consumers in April 2020. Instead of making them available annually, they now make them available weekly. Weekly credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com remain free through 2023. In July 2022, the bureaus began removing medical collections from credit reports. They will also begin to exclude collections below $500 for medical debt beginning in 2023.
Savings accounts and CD rates have risen dramatically in recent years. This inflation was partly due to supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. In fact, the Federal Reserve has increased its federal funds rate several times over the past year. Online banks and credit unions jumped at the opportunity to raise rates, especially online banks that offer some of the highest yields. As of February 2023, savings accounts and CDs have yields above 4% annually.
Banks closed branches and merged. According to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, there was a drop in the number FDIC-insured bank branches from March 2020 to September 2022. This drop coincided with record numbers of bank mergers in 2021. This continues a long trend of consolidation within banking. Banks closed over 2,700 branches between 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has accelerated the trend towards more digital banking and less dependence on in-person banks. However, branches are still important for some segments of society, including small-business owners.
It changed how we spend
As more people shop online, the phrase “Buy Now, Pay Later” has become a popular option. Popular providers such as Afterpay, Affirm, and Klarna made it possible to offer these payment plans almost everywhere.
However, government watchdogs are skeptical. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a September 2022 report on BNPL. It hinted at regulation in the future, citing consumer protections and ease of overspending as the top concerns.
Tip creep may be here to stay. This generosity was well-deserved as many low-paid gig workers and retail workers had to forgo stay-at home orders in order to be considered “essential.”
Three years later, new expectations regarding tipping might be here to stay. Many businesses have point-of-sale systems that encourage customers to tip. This has made consumers anxious about how much they should tip for their to-go coffee. Employers can now rely on the increased tips of customers to pay the minimum wage.
Borrowers remain in limbo. On March 2020, the then-President Donald Trump frozen federal student loan payments as an urgent pandemic measure. The White House has granted this pause, also known as forbearance, eight times in the past three years. The reprieve expires in 2023, as of now.
The Supreme Court is currently evaluating President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel student loans up to $20,000 per borrower. The Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision by the end of this summer. Although it is not clear how the justices will rule on this issue, it is possible that borrowers will be required to repay their student loans with interest and without cancellation.
Stocks took a wild ride
Retail stock trading soared. We were stuck at home scrolling through our phones in 2020 wondering what to do about our stimulus checks during periods of historical market volatility.
Many people downloaded an app to trade stocks. Robinhood, one of these apps, saw a 120% increase in accounts between 2019 and 2021. Increases were also seen in larger, more established brokerages. Schwab saw an example of this: a 140% increase for accounts in 2020.
Meme stocks are companies that have a large social media following. Many people bought them. GameStop shares rose from less that $1 in April 2020 to more than $80 by January 2021.
This party didn’t last forever – GameStop shares now trade below $20 However, even though brokerage account growth slowed in 2022 it was not reversed. The meme stock craze may have ended, but widespread retail trade seems to be going strong.
Two-year bull run was experienced by the market. The S&P 500 index rose 75% between March 2020 and December 2021. Tech companies led the charge.
The rally did not last long into 2022. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in March 2022 due to high inflation, which put downward pressure on stock markets.
The S&P 500 index fell 20% in 2022 due to supply disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and fears of a recession. Although it has gained some ground in 2023 but it is still too early to know if the worst is over, it remains low.
Telehealth received a boost
Doctors were not safe for us to go to, so we went to them.
In the first six months after the pandemic, more than one in 10 outpatient visits to a health care provider used telehealth. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth usage rates were rounded down to zero. According to CDC data, 37% of U.S. adults used telemedicine at the least once per 12 months by 2021.
The key to expanding access to telehealth, especially for seniors on Medicare, was the change in insurance rules. The government lifted restrictions on Medicare Telehealth coverage by location, provider, service type, facility, and other criteria in 2020.
Telehealth is not going away. Some Medicare rule modifications have been made permanent and others extended to at least 2024.
Help for small businesses
According to NPR’s October 2022 analysis, more than 11 million Paycheck Protection Program loans were made to small businesses to provide them with financial assistance. This was from April 2020 to May 2021. Despite the government assistance, approximately 200,000 businesses were forced to close their doors permanently due to the pandemic.
Many of the businesses that survived the pandemic are still struggling to recover from its effects. They face constant economic challenges including disruptions in supply chains, rising interest rates, and inflation.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, new business applications rose 44% in 2022 compared to 2019. Some Americans set up businesses after the pandemic, while others did it to make ends work. Others started them because remote work allowed them to transform side gigs into full-fledged companies.
NerdWallet writers Amanda Barroso and Shannon Bradley, Eliza Haverstock and Randa Kriss, as well as Sally French, Eliza Haverstock and Randa Kriss, contributed to this article.