New research has found that women, younger individuals, those with lower levels of formal education, and people of color are being the hardest hit by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, widening the preexisting gaps in care for these populations.

The study, conducted by researchers at Indiana University, found that Black adults were 3 times as likely as whites to report food insecurity, losing their jobs, or being unemployed during the pandemic. Furthermore, the investigators found that residents without a college degree were twice as likely to report food insecurity while those who have not completed high school are 4 times as likely, compared to those with a bachelor’s degree. They also noted that younger adults and women were more likely to report economic hardships.

According to the study, these patterns persisted even after taking into account employment status and financial hardship before the pandemic, suggesting that the gap between what the investigators called the “haves” and the “have nots” is being widened by the pandemic.

“It is clear that the pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on the economic security of individuals who were already vulnerable and among disadvantaged groups,” said co-author Bernice Pescosolido, PhD, in a press release. “This work demonstrates the need for strategically deployed relief efforts and longer-term policy reforms to challenge the perennial and unequal impact of disasters.”

The team utilized the Person-to-Person Health Interview Study, which is a statewide representative, face-to-face survey, to interview nearly 1000 Indiana residents before and during the initial stay at home order in March 2020. Their goal was to determine differences in experiences of economic hardship among historically advantaged and disadvantaged groups following the COVID-19 lockdown.

They measured 4 self-reported indicators of economic precarity: housing insecurity, food insecurity, general financial insecurity, and unemployment or job loss. Earlier research has shown that national and global crises tend to disproportionately impact those who were already struggling financially, and it takes more vulnerable communities significantly longer to recover.

The new study confirmed these findings, demonstrating that residents already concerned with their housing, food, and finances reported greater concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team has plans to follow up after the pandemic in order to get a better idea of the long-term impact of COVID-19 on individuals and their families. In a press release, co-author Brea Perry, PhD, said rebuilding public health and other social structures will not only assist disadvantaged groups in times of need, but will also help society at large.

“Providing basic resources to all Americans, such as generous unemployment benefits, paid family leave, affordable federal housing, and universal preschool will help communities better weather crisis,” Perry said in the press release. “We need to rethink how we intervene in disasters and also strengthen our social safety net for everyone.”

REFERENCE
Gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is being widened by the COVID pandemic, an IU study found [news release]. Indiana University; February 5, 2021. https://research.impact.iu.edu/our-strengths/coronavirus/pandemic-impact-on-disadvantaged.html. Accessed February 16, 2021.