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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Inflation tops Covid-19 as Americans’ biggest concern, but infection remains a costly threat

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This time last year, the Delta variant was about to send Covid-19 cases to what would be their highest peak of the pandemic so far.

It’s no wonder, then, that 45% of Americans ranked Covid as the biggest issue facing the U.S. at the time, according to last year’s Consumer Trends survey from The New Consumer.

But now, that concern has been replaced with worries about inflation and rising prices. Just 16% of people rank Covid-19 as the most important problem, compared to 45% who say inflation is, according to this year’s survey

Heading into the fourth calendar year of the pandemic, it’s understandable that people are tired of it. But the risk of catching Covid is still significant, which could spell even bigger financial difficulties than high prices.

Older generations are less concerned about Covid, despite higher risk

Not everyone has moved on, though. Younger generations are still worried about Covid-19, with 18% of Gen Z and millennials ranking it a top concern.

However, just 13% of respondents who are Gen X and older still rank Covid as a top concern. In fact, the virus didn’t even crack the top seven of older generations’ primary concerns.

Severe Covid cases can bring financial turmoil

Inflation undoubtedly has an immediate and far-reaching impact: Not everyone will get Covid this month, but almost everyone will have to buy groceries.

But the long-term financial implications of a severe Covid case could be far worse than a bigger grocery bill. Initial hospitalization for a Covid case costs an average of $1,600 to $4,000, even with insurance, according to research from the University of Michigan and Boston University.

Managing long Covid symptoms can cost patients an average of $9,000 per year, a Harvard economist estimates

Plus, hefty medical bills may be just the beginning, says Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute.

“The poverty rate of people with disabilities is about two-and-a-half times as high as for others, and the share of those with disabilities who have medical debt is about five times as large as for others,” he tells CNBC Make It.

“There’s tons of uncertainty about the long-term health implications of Covid-19, but even a tiny bit of long-term illness/disability risk associated with Covid-19 will have big economic costs,” Bivens adds.

While inflation might force consumers to re-think their budgets or cut back on spending, Bivens says that’s far less costly than widespread, long-term illness. “The pandemic imposes real aggregate costs — both in health and the economy,” he says.

Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET to learn from money masters how you can increase your earning power.

Don’t miss: Exercise may increase the effectiveness of your Covid-19 vaccine, a new study found: Here’s how to get the most benefit

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