Broken down by partisan lines, Democrats, Independents and Republicans all say the economy has worsened in the past several weeks.

WASHINGTON – As unemployment numbers continue to rise due to the coronavirus pandemic, Americans' perceptions of the economy are worsening and almost a quarter say they've had difficulty paying rent or their mortgage, according to a new survey.

Sixty-five percent of Americans believe the economy is getting worse — a 40 percentage point jump from four weeks earlier, when only 25% believed it was getting worse, according to the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project with USA TODAY.

In the four weeks between surveys, the economy ground to a near-halt as much of the country was put under stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses were forced to close. Since then, millions of people have been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic. The Labor Department reported Thursday that about 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, bringing the three-week total to more than 17 million.

The percentage of people who believe the economy is getting better also dropped, from 37% to 19%, according to the survey. The Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project, with USA TODAY, is a large-scale study of the American electorate. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the researchers aim to conduct 500,000 interviews about both policies and the presidential candidates. 

Robert Griffin, research director for the Voter Study Group, said the survey shows "some early signs of what's coming ... beyond just sort of the unemployment numbers."

"There's a really substantial number of folks who, even in the first couple of weeks of this, are getting hit pretty hard," he said.

Economic perceptions since July 2019 have remained steady, with no major drops until March of this year, Griffin said. He noted that "this is not a type of change that we see in American public opinion around something like that all that often."

Broken down by partisan lines, Democrats, independents and Republicans all believe the economy has worsened in the past several weeks.

Among Democrats, only 9% say the economy is getting better while a whopping 76% say it’s getting worse. Four weeks earlier, 17% of Democrats said the economy was getting better, while 39% said it was getting worse. Among independents, 9% believe the economy is getting – down from 23% four weeks ago. Sixty-nine percent of independents believe the economy is getting worse, up 42 percentage points from the start of the month. 

Republicans also had a large increase in the number who believe the economy is getting worse. In the late-March survey, 35% of Republicans think the economy is getting better, down 31 percentage points from earlier in the month. On the opposite end, 50% of Republicans believe the economy is getting worse, up 43 percentage points from earlier in the month. 

Griffin noted that despite living in a society that can seem hyper-partisan, many Americans are "reacting to the reality that's occurring around them and correctly perceiving that things are trending in a particular direction.

"In a world in which sometimes we're kind of disconnected from reality as a result of our partisanship ... it's still the case that reality can set," he said.

Amid the economic turmoil, Americans also are having difficulty paying bills like student loans or car payments.

More:New nationwide study shows where Americans agree – and where Democrats differ headed into November

In March, almost a quarter of Americans — 22% — said they've had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage. In April 2018, the last time this question was asked by Democracy Fund's VOTER survey, that number was only 12%.

And nearly double the number of Americans are having difficulty paying their student loans: 13% in March compared with 7% in April 2018. And fifteen percent of Americans aid they had difficulty paying their car payments — again more than double of the 7% that said they had difficulty in April 2018.

In addition, 42% of Americans said in a March survey that they've experienced a drop in household in income in the last 12 months. Comparatively, that number was at 25% in April 2018.

Those surveyed are also showing an increase in loss of income and job losses compared to roughly this same time two years ago. 

In March, 70% of Americans said they were very or somewhat worried about their finances. That's up 11 percentage points from a similar time period in April 2018, where 59% of Americans said they were very or somewhat worried about their finances in the past six months.

More:New York, Gilpin are among the places a COVID-19 recession will likely hit hardest

The number of those who have said they have lost their job in the last 12 months also has doubled since April 2018. According to the March survey, 18% said they have recently lost their job, while 59% said they have not. Around the same time period two years ago, only 7% said they had recently lost their job, while 64% said they had not and 29% said it was not applicable. 

In addition, those who have said their spouse or partner have lost their job has also doubled. In March, 15% of Americans said their spouse or partner recently lost their job. In April 2018, that number was only 6%.

The most recent survey was conducted March 26 to April 1, with 6,430 people surveyed and a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points. The earlier survey mentioned was conducted Feb. 27 to March 4 with 6,225 people surveyed and a margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points.

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