Average life satisfaction plummeted in 2020, according to a new ABS report, with young Australians most likely to bear the brunt of pandemic life

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  • Nearly one in five Australian households would have struggled to raise $2,000 for an important expense in the middle of 2020, says a new Australian Bureau of Statistics report.
  • But the data suggests that figure could have been higher were it not for government support packages like JobKeeper and the Coronavirus Supplement.
  • Overall life satisfaction was measured at 7.2 out of 10 in 2020, down from 7.5 in 2019, and 7.6 in 2014.
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Nearly one in five Australian households would have struggled to raise $2,000 for an important expense in 2020, according to a new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report.

But the data also suggests the $90 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy and the temporary Coronavirus Supplement kept that figure from becoming considerably more grim.

In the 2020 General Social Survey (GSS) results, released Tuesday, the ABS states 18.7% of households would have had difficulty raising $2,000 for an emergency expense in the space of a week.

That figure stands nearly a full percentage point below the 2019 results, which showed 19.5% of households would have struggled to make an unexpected purchase.

Fewer Australians reported having at least one cash flow problem in 2020 than in 2019, too. Some 20.7% of Australians said their cash flow was hampered last year compared to 21.8% the year prior.

The 2020 GSS was conducted between mid-June and early September, the ABS states, meaning the results reflect an Australia slogging through industry shutdowns in Victoria and border closures and restrictions hampering the rest of the nation.

The ABS also notes the survey results were taken at the height of the JobKeeper payment, which provided up to $1,500 a fortnight to employees of businesses impacted by the pandemic.

Similarly, the Coronavirus Supplement — which effectively doubled the base JobSeeker rate by providing recipients with an extra $550 per fortnight — was in full force during the reporting period.

Despite those stimulus measures and support payments softening the financial blow for many, the GSS nevertheless shows the brutal toll the pandemic took on Australia’s wellbeing.

Overall life satisfaction was measured at 7.2 out of 10 in 2020, down from 7.5 in 2019, and 7.6 in 2014.

Those aged 70 and above reported a significantly higher life satisfaction of 7.9 out of ten, while those aged 15-24 reported satisfaction of just 6.9 — the lowest of any age group, and the lowest score registered in six years.

via ABS

Alongside the broader havoc caused by the pandemic — and the fact that young short-term casual workers were not eligible for JobKeeper — the report suggests isolation may have played a large factor in those deflated ratings.

Just 42% of respondents had face-to-face contact with family or friends who lived outside of their household more than once a week, compared to 68% in 2019.

Victoria, which slogged through the harshest and longest lockdowns of any Australian state, reported a weekly visitation rate of just 34%, the lowest of any jurisdiction nationwide.

Participation in sports, community groups, and civic organisations also fell compared to 2019.

The ABS notes an elevated level of households which chose not to respond to the 2020 survey may shade the results when compared to prior editions.

With that in mind, the figures suggest that for a brief moment, Australia’s stimulus measures kept many households afloat, even as they suffered from the isolation of lockdowns and the broader upheaval caused by the virus.