Coronavirus Disproportionately Harming Low Income Workers—Among Other Groups

Coronavirus Disproportionately Harming Low Income Workers—Among Other Groups

Recent studies have shown that a number of factors like income, gender and race increase a person’s risk of contracting COVID-19 or suffering from the pandemic. It is important that employers understand these risks they can better protect their workers.

The coronavirus is affecting most of Americans in one way or another, but it is important to recognize that some are hurting much more than others. Many recent studies have looked at the way the coronavirus pandemic has affected different social classes, communities, genders, ages and races. Unfortunately, most experts agree that the coronavirus is much more likely to affect lower-income women, especially women of color.

Why should we pay attention to findings like these? For one, employers and managers should not only be aware of what groups of individuals might be more at risk, but they should take that knowledge and work to better safeguard their employees—especially if their workers are getting paid minimum wage, are considered essential workers or have families.

Let’s Talk Wage

New research from the University of Chicago looks at how the coronavirus has disproportionately harmed those who were already struggling before the pandemic. According to an ongoing survey of U.S. households, over 57 percent of women making less than $30,000 a year have lost income during the first month of crisis.

In fact, among men and women making at least $45,000 a year, fewer than 30 percent reported losing income during that same time period.

“The new research underscores the important of policies that do more than relieve the impact of COVID-19 on lower-income households, who are being disproportionately affected,” said Marianne Bertrand, the Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Our data supports that this crisis is anything but ‘a great equalizer.’ It is dramatically amplifying income inequality in America.”

Bertrand and a team of other researchers have been conducting a series of polls through mid-May. In the first six surveys, conducted between April 6 and April 11, AmeriSpeak polled over 1,400 representative households across the country.

The research aims to look at how Americans are responding to the pandemic; how they are coping with social distancing; how the crisis is highlighting disparities across groups and how the crisis can look at the economy; politics the role of the government and the future of the U.S.

It is important to consider that most individuals making less than $30,000 a year are making minimum wage—and many are considered “essential.” So not only are many essential workers losing their jobs during the pandemic, but many of them do not get paid much to begin with, which means they are less likely to have good health insurance or savings.

Now Consider Gender

While income is a huge part of who is most affected by the pandemic, gender does play a role of a person’s likelihood of exposure and difficulty during the pandemic. As the study from the University of Chicago points out, lower-income Americans, especially women, were more likely to experience a drop in their incomes due to changes to their employment status already in the first month of the crisis.

Since more women are experiencing a pay cut or losing their jobs than men, this affects childcare for working mothers too. Increased childcare needs during school closures exert an outsized impact on working mothers—especially since women are more likely to be the main childcare parent in a household.

Furthermore, women are more likely to hold caretaking jobs than are men—which means they are often the ones working in hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities that experiences high rates of coronavirus cases.

Yes, Race Has a Factor as Well

It is crucial to understand intersectionality between issues. People of color are more likely to hold lower income jobs and “essential” jobs—which automatically makes them more likely to contract the coronavirus or suffer greatly from the pandemic.

The University of Chicago study also found that 42 percent of non-white workers making between $45000 to $75,000 reported losing income—compared to only 26 percent of white workers in the same income bracket.

Many other studies note how people of color, especially African Americans and Black individuals, are more likely to have COVID-19 or struggle during the pandemic. John Hopkins University notes that Black individuals are more likely to live in crowded housing conditions, work in essentials fields, have inconsistent access to health care, have chronic health conditions and experience stress.

Read NPR’s article on how people in color are generally being affect by the pandemic.

Consider Mental Health, Too

The pandemic has affected most Americans’ mental wellbeing in some way or another, but lower income workers are much more likely to struggle with mental and emotional health. Low-income households are most concerned about jobs, income stability and health care coverage. Over half of low-income respondents reported being worried about losing their job, compared to less than 20 percent of higher-income Americans.

The University of Chicago study is ongoing and “longitudinal” which means researchers can continue to track these results over time and measure how household attitudes and outlooks are changing as the pandemic unfolds.

Employers and managers should take these findings to heart: if you want to truly keep workers safe and healthy, especially during a pandemic, you need to understand who is most at risk. Everyone—whether you are an employer or not—should recognize that not all Americans are suffering the same during this crisis, and find ways to help others.

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