UC Davis study finds that the pandemic has impacted Latina mothers both financially and psychologically

UC Davis study finds that the pandemic has impacted Latina mothers both financially and psychologically

Photo Credits: Mario Rodriguez / Aggie

Low-income families and families of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 has unexpectedly impacted the lives of many individuals, but it has especially affected low-income families in the U.S. A study led by Leah Hibel, an associate professor of human development and family studies at UC Davis, asked Latina mothers in Yolo and Sacramento counties about the hardships they have faced since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as the resulting toll on their mental health.

         Hibel has previous experience studying low-income families as an associate professor of family studies, so when the pandemic initiated lockdowns and a rise in unemployment, she knew that low-income families would face more challenges than others due to the pre-existing systems “built to oppress non-white families.”

         “Families with low income have very little buffer in terms of their own financial security,” Hibel said.

         For example, families living paycheck to paycheck will have a tougher time recovering from one missed paycheck versus families that have savings in their bank accounts. There are multiple factors that can lead to economic hardship, according to Hibel. One is that non-white families are more likely to have a lower income because disproportionate impacts of current immigration policies make it more difficult for members of these families to obtain jobs.

         Another factor is that our current education system makes it expensive to pursue higher education. It also does not help that public schools, from kindergarten to high school, are esentially segregated, making it more likely that non-white children attend the schools that are underfunded, according to Hibel.

         Along with the stress of making ends meet, families of color are more likely to contract the virus, according to Hibel. They are less likely to obtain white-collar positions, which can often be completed remotely. In contrast, essential workers, such as service workers, do not have the option to work from home and are more likely to get exposed to the virus from their daily human interactions.

         The type of job an individual has and their work environment are also important factors. A position could consist of working in a private office where there is easy access to a bathroom for consistent hand washing, and where a limited number of people are allowed in the building.

In contrast, another position could be at an assembly line where employees could be working inches apart from each other and where bathroom breaks could be limited, which would result in a reduction of hand washing. It is also possible that there is also no access to ventilated air, and that personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are not readily available. Not everyone who is exposed to the virus contracts the virus, but consistent exposure will increase health risks, according to Hibel.

“Because we live in a society where healthcare is not a right, it’s a privilege, and it’s an expensive privilege, people are not able to take care of their health to the degree they might want to because finances get in the way,” Hibel said.

With an increased chance of contracting the virus, low-income families and families of color may have a higher chance of serious health issues and can be more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, which is worsened by systems of oppression limiting access to healthcare, healthy spaces, and healthy foods, according to Hibel. The concern for contracting the virus while undergoing financial distress contributed to Latina mothers reporting increasing anxiety and depression, according to the study published this year.

Chase Boyer, a Ph.D. student studying human development, and Andrea Buhler, a Ph.D. candidate also studying human development, assisted Hibel with this study. Boyer contributed by lending his input on the study design that revolved around the constantly changing situation regarding the pandemic. He assisted with the design of the surveys as well with adding questions about childcare and the effects of the stimulus.

Buhler contributed by interviewing mothers with the survey and collaborated with Hibel, Boyer and Blake Shaw, a masters of science biostatistics student, to analyze data and write the published paper. She, along with Boyer, was a part of the study from the very beginning in 2015 when it was known as the California Babies Project.

According to Boyer, this was a time when systematic oppression was evident through increased immigration enforcement, the separation of immigrant children from their families and the increased instances of racism and discrimination towards Latinx people of the U.S. The current pandemic has further added to the suffering of these individuals.

It was a challenge to transition to working remotely on the study and to organize its many components with only virtual communication, according to Boyer. The switch from in-person visits to phone calls with the families helped the researchers understand what other people were going through during the start of the pandemic.

“As a researcher, it was helpful to get out of the bubble we are all in just being stuck inside,” Boyer said.

Buhler hopes that what the public takes away from the study is that Latina mothers and families with young children are being heavily impacted and deserve more systemic support during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I want us as a society to value Latina women and the motherwork that Latina mothers do on a daily basis, and recognize the economic and psychological consequences occurring as a result of the government’s mishandling of this crisis,” Buhler said. “At the very least, they need more financial support in the form of greater stimulus payments.”

Hibel wants policymakers who have steady incomes, the privilege to work from home and regular access to PPE to be aware of the ongoing crisis many low-income families face and understand they need ongoing stimulus payments.

“A one-time payment is just not sufficient. Low-income families need to be compensated for what has been lost, which is of no fault of their own that the economy has crashed in the way that it has,” Hibel said.

 Written by: Francheska Torres — science@theaggie.org