Abstract: Blood Plasma Sales and Liquidity in LMI Households (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Blood Plasma Sales and Liquidity in LMI Households

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Stephanie Skees, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, MO
Stephen Roll, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Background. Anecdotally, case workers have seen blood plasma sales become an increasingly-used form of income generation among economically vulnerable populations. Recent data reflect this shift, with a reported 97,000 of U.S. adults receiving payment for selling their blood plasma (Valient, Abdelmalek, & Pearle, 2017). A routine plasma seller can feasibly make $400 a month for their blood plasma, indicating that this income stream may be an important component of certain households’ budgets. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that plasma clinics are nearly seven times more likely to be located in an “extreme poverty area” (James and Mustard, 2004). While plasma sales have become increasingly prevalent, there exists little work examining sales in the U.S. This paper seeks to address this research gap by exploring patterns in blood plasma sales among low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, and the ways in which these households may need to sell plasma as a means of meeting everyday financial needs.

Sample and Methods. This study uses two waves of the 2019 Household Financial Survey, a longitudinal dataset administered to a random sample of LMI online tax-filers (n=12,217). The survey asks in-depth questions about a filer’s demographic and financial circumstances, including measures of financial volatility and the use of alternative financial services like payday loans. In this survey, we placed a module specifically measuring many aspects of blood plasma sales, including the frequency of and motivation for selling plasma.

In this paper, we examine these patterns through basic statistical approaches, and employ logistic regression techniques to examine the degree to which demographic, financial, and behavioral factors are predictive of blood plasma sales. We further employ a difference-in-difference approach combined with propensity score weighting techniques to analyze the relationship between economic shocks and blood plasma sales.

Preliminary Results. 3.4% of LMI households in our sample sold plasma in the six months prior to the survey; roughly 15% higher than the rate of payday loan usage over the same period. Significant predictors of plasma sales include part-time student status, unexpected income volatility, and relatively high number of children in the household. We also observe that individuals were disproportionately likely to sell plasma regardless of their employment status, and were more likely to sell blood plasma if they had participated in other alternative financial services in the prior six months. These findings indicate that LMI households leverage plasma sales as part of their broader financial management strategy.

Implications. While selling plasma is less financially cumbersome than certain high-cost credit options like payday loans, it is potentially damaging to participants’ health and well-being, particularly if it is a regular occurrence. Given the demographic most likely to participate in selling plasma this may be an additional burden disproportionally affecting vulnerable populations. Policymakers have focused extensively on high-cost sources of credit like payday loans, yet sales of blood plasma have gone relatively undiscussed. Findings from this study can inform both policy and practice of the households’ use of blood plasma sales as a mechanism for increasing access to liquidity.