Holiday spending in 2020

December 17, 2020 Karlyn Bowman, Jacqueline Clemence

The holidays look different this year. In addition to traveling less, having smaller gatherings, and gathering virtually, Americans are also altering their spending habits. The latest American Perspectives Survey (APS) shows Americans are being more frugal this holiday season, with some groups being more cautious than others.

Only four percent of Americans will be spending more over the upcoming December holidays this year, while 45 percent said they will spend less and 48 percent about the same. That nearly half the public say they will spend less is hardly a surprise given the affect COVID-19 has had on employment and businesses. The November unemployment rate was 6.7 percent and in the week ending December 5th, 853,000 Americans filed for unemployment, the most since September. The CARES Act, which provided financial relief for both individuals and businesses, ran out of funding at the end of July, and Congress has yet to pass another relief package. With more cities and states shutting down with the rise in coronavirus cases, a reduction in holiday spending is to be expected.

As many surveys have shown, certain groups, especially Hispanic and black Americans, have fared especially poorly financially, while others have been largely unscathed. There are sharp racial divisions in holiday spending this year which reflect the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had. Forty percent of white Americans in the new APS will spend less this year compared to last year, compared to 50 percent of black and 59 percent of Hispanic Americans.

Over time, the amount Americans spend on the holidays has fluctuated. The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll began asking about holiday spending in 1996 and the graph below shows the up and downs. In the years following the Great Recession, fewer than 10 percent of Americans said they would spend more on the holidays. In the good economic times around 1999, the number of Americans who said they would spend more than in previous years on the holidays peaked at 15 percent.

Whatever the actual numbers are as retailers make their final tallies of Christmas spending at year’s end, the pandemic has many thinking about the true meaning of the holiday. We are reminded of what Dr. Seuss said in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! . . .

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank our intern Stephanie Dodd for her work on this blog. 

Survey Reports

Daniel A. Cox
February 11, 2021

After the ballots are counted: Conspiracies, political violence, and American exceptionalism

The January 2021 American Perspectives Survey looks at post-election sentiments, beliefs in conspiracies, attitudes toward political violence, political segregation, and general feelings toward the United States.

Daniel A. Cox
December 15, 2020

Religious diversity and change in American social networks: How our social connections shape religious beliefs and behavior

New analysis explores the degree to which Americans’ religious networks are composed largely of those with similar beliefs and affiliations or those that are more diverse. It also explores how religious diversity among our close personal relationships serves to structure religious behavior and belief.

Daniel A. Cox, Karlyn Bowman
December 9, 2020

A turning point? Americans grapple with COVID-19 amid enduring partisan and racial divisions

The November 2020 APS explores how Americans are grappling with COVID-19 amid soaring numbers of infections, finding that more Americans say they would get a free, FDA-approved vaccine, but large partisan divisions persist. It also challenges the “shy Trump voter” hypothesis, offering possible explanations for Trump’s increased support among non-white voters.   

Daniel A. Cox, Karlyn Bowman, Jacqueline Clemence
November 18, 2020

Hopes and challenges for community and civic life: Perspectives from the nation and Indiana

The coronavirus outbreak has created tensions between urban Americans hit harder by the virus and small towns and rural communities. Despite these disparities, recently released surveys find that before coronavirus, Americans express many of the same ideas and priorities regarding their communities, revealing we may not be as divided as one might think.