Vermont residents report increased loneliness, but greater financial security and trust in local government three months into Covid-19 pandemic.

New research from the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies (CRS) finds that three months into Governor Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Vermonters experienced increased loneliness, but less stress about their personal finances and greater confidence in local government than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings are based on survey responses from over 1,500 Vermonters on topics related to their wellbeing. Conducted in June 2020, the survey sought input on 10 domains of wellbeing including Psychological, Physical Health, Time Balance, Community Vitality, Social Connectedness, Education and Cultural Access, the Physical Environment, Trust in Governance, Financial and Work Life. 

The study was first conducted in 2013 and again in 2017 in collaboration with Gross National Happiness USA and the Happiness Alliance- two organizations dedicated to utilizing indicators that go beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the unemployment rate as proxies for citizen wellbeing. Utilizing results from these earlier studies, CRS was able to provide a timely and comprehensive assessment of the direct impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vermonters. 

“While many of the findings aligned well with what we might expect during this crisis such as increased loneliness, we also found that Vermonters were less likely to report living paycheck to paycheck and reported feeling less stress about their finances,” said Michael Moser, a CRS research specialist.

Notably, the study was conducted when the Federal CARES Act was distributing emergency cash payments to citizens in Vermont and across the U.S. Despite the ongoing pandemic, nearly twice as many Vermonters reported feeling "no stress at all" about their finances in June 2020 compared to those surveyed in 2017.

Jane Kolodinsky, CRS director and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, noted that “It appears Vermont has responded well, on average, to the financial crisis felt by families who lost income due to lack of employment, and Vermonters appreciate that. With the current uncertainties around provision of additional emergency relief funds, these findings provide valuable data for policymakers to consider.”

Additionally, Vermonters expressed significantly greater confidence in local and state government than before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2013 and 2017, 18% and 20% of Vermonters, respectively, said they had “quite a lot of confidence” in local government. In June of 2020, after three months of executive orders closing businesses and limiting physical interactions, over 34% of Vermonters expressed “quite a lot of confidence” in Vermont’s local government.

Results from some of the other wellbeing indicators available in the study found that after three months of Stay at Home orders, Vermonters reported feeling lonely more often, were less satisfied with their access to recreational and cultural activities and reported having less energy than before the COVID outbreak. 

“While these findings may not be surprising, they remind us that this public health emergency has impacted important aspects of our daily lives that are missed when relying on economic indicators alone,” said Moser. “Policymakers can use these wellbeing indicator results to further understand and address a broad range of significant challenges caused by shut-downs in the economy, education, and in our social interactions.”

For more information about this study, contact Michael Moser at Michael.moser@uvm.edu

PUBLISHED

08-17-2020
Center for Rural Studies