Study: Most Workers Experience Multiple, Interconnected Vulnerabilities to COVID-19

Adversity has disproportionately hurt certain populations, including essential workers and women, the results of a new analysis show.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on individuals’ mental and physical and caused economic hardships, with a disproportionate effect on certain populations, including essential workers and women, new study results published in PLOS Global Public Health show.1

The research results suggest that these individuals have been affected by a cluster of interrelated factors.1

“Most research on COVID-19 disparities focuses on individual factors, but few have explored the complex relationships between the multiple factors that leave people more vulnerable to the pandemic and the conditions it has created,” Ariadna Capasso, a doctoral student at New York University’s (NYU) School of Global Public Health, said in a statement. “A systems-thinking approach, which considers these multiple factors at the same time, helps us to understand these interrelations, which can inform effective policies.”.1

The investigators applied a systems-thinking approach to analyzing responses to a survey of 2800 workers in the United States collected via social media in April 2020. Workers were asked questions about their access to health care, employment, income, mental health, and where they lived.

The study identified 3 clusters of vulnerabilities: financial, such as a loss of income or being unable to work from home; health care access barriers, such as no health insurance or paid sick leave; and mental health.1

Investigators found that 9 of 10 workers experienced at least 1 vulnerability cluster. About 41% had 2 vulnerabilities, and 15% reported all 3 vulnerabilities.1

The clusters seemed to disproportionately affect certain groups of individuals, such as essential workers, rural residents, and women, investigators found.1

Essential workers experienced more financial vulnerability than other workers, which could be because they often work in hourly or less stable jobs, which may not provide sick leave.1

When it came to mental health, women experienced more issues than men, whereas essential workers and individuals in rural areas reported better mental health.1 However, individuals in rural areasexperienced greater financial vulnerability and more barriers to health care access barriers than those living in urban areas.1

“Each of these factors does not occur on its own,” Yesim Tozan, assistant professor of global health at the NYU School of Global Public Health, said in the statement.1 “Our findings highlight how financial, mental health, and health care access vulnerabilities are interrelated and contribute to COVID-19-related disparities that workers experience.”

Investigators urge policymakers to consider how different factors may overlap when creating or strengthening policies to mitigate the economic and social disparities related to the pandemic.1

The CDC has reported mental health problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.2

From August 2020 to February 2021, individuals with recent symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder increased to 4.15% from 36.4%, CDC show.2

Additionally, individuals who reported an unmet mental health care need increased to 11.7%, from 9.2%.2

References

1. Most workers experience multiple, interconnected vulnerabilities to COVID-19. EurekAlert. News release. February 9, 2022. Accessed February 10, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/942483

2. Vahratian A, Blumberg SJ, Terlizzi EP, Schiller JS. Symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder and use of mental health care among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic - United States, August 2020 - February 2021. CDC. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(13):490-494.doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7013e2