Support for Social Safety Nets Way Up Amid Public Health Crisis

(Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

(CN) — A national public opinion survey taken during the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic shows a strong surge in public support for an active government role in society, including universal health care, paid sick leave policies, and unemployment benefits.

A survey conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins University SNF Agora Institute this past April found the number of adults who support an active government role in society jumped by more than 40% during the initial coronavirus response compared to a similar poll in September 2019.

The survey, fielded using the National Opinion Research Center’s Amerispeak Panel, drew from a nationally representative sample of 1,468 U.S. adults. Respondents were asked about their support for 11 safety net policies such as paid sick leave and universal health insurance, income support and unemployment policies, tax credits for businesses, and employment education and training.

“As Congress debates continued relief for Americans suffering health and economic consequences from the pandemic, our data shows there is growing support for passing the kind of policies that they have been unable to pass in the last few months,” says co-author Hahrie Han, director of the SNF Agora Institute.

The findings, published today in the American Journal of Public Health, show that a majority of U.S. adults strongly supported seven of the 11 social safety net policies, with significant but less support for the other four.

According to the poll, 77% of Americans support employer-guaranteed paid sick leave, 71% support public spending on construction projects like building roads or highways, and 68% support employment education and training programs.

Further, 66% of respondents supported tax credits to businesses to retain and hire workers, 60% supported universal health insurance, 58% back increasing the federal minimum wage, and 52% favor extension of unemployment benefits.

Even social policies which failed to receive majority support among respondents showed a significant positive response in polled Americans. Just under half of those polled (47%) supported the idea of single payer health insurance, 48% favor government-funded family leave and 39% back government-funded paid sick leave. Nearly 4 in 10 of those polled expressed support for the idea of universal basic income.

“Critical safety net policies passed in the initial phase of the pandemic are expiring or have expired, and finding common ground on extending them has proved difficult,” said the lead author, Colleen L. Barry, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. “An awareness on the part of policymakers of heightened support for the government aiding individuals and families who have experienced pandemic-related dislocations could make a difference.”

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