Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Increased Mental Health Problems after the Lifting of COVID-19 Lockdown Among Low-Income Workers in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

510P (see Poster Gallery) Increased Mental Health Problems after the Lifting of COVID-19 Lockdown Among Low-Income Workers in the United States

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Eunsun Kwon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ
Sojung Park, PhD, Associate University, Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Jiyoung Kang, PhD, Assistant Professor, Chungnam National University, Korea, Republic of (South)
Eojin Shin, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, IL
Seoyeon Ahn, PhD, Deputy Research Fellow, National Pension Research, Korea, Republic of (South)
Background and Purpose: The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will linger for years, with significantly impacts on the health of the workforce. Evidence to date suggests that the pandemic has different effects on workers’ mental health, depending on whether they are classified as “essential” workers (e.g., first responders, health care workers, transportation workers) due to the exemption of ‘stay-at-home’ implementation as well as the degree of risk exposure. Ample evidence has outlined the immediate and delayed adverse effects of both the pandemic and the lockdown on individuals’ mental health. However, little research has explored the delayed impact on low-income workers’ mental health after lifting the lockdown. This study hypothesizes that the relative return to normal life may have relieved the psychological distress for the low-income workers, and will explore how the lifting of the lockdown has impacted their mental health, with special attention to essential workers.

Methods: Data came from the Household Pulse Survey, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, which has collected information on how the pandemic impacted households. Using the five phases of the data, collected every quarter staring in April 2020, the study sample was restricted to non-elderly low-income adults who were employed when they responded to the survey (N=97,892). This study examined their changes in four measures of mental health statuses (frequencies of feeling anxious, worried, having little interest, and feeling depressed) before the intervention (before the lifting) and after the intervention (after the lifting), using an Interrupted Times Serious regression (ITSR) analysis with a focus on essential workers.

Results: The results from the ITSR analysis showed a high probability of mental health problems after lifting the first COVID-19 lockdown, which was significantly associated with high levels of feeling depressed, anxious, and worried. There was no difference of feeling little interest across before and after the lifting. Essential workers were at a greater risk for mental health problems, than those in nonessential work. Additionally, essential workers in low occupational class (e.g., unskilled manual jobs) were at a greater risk of experiencing mental health problems than individuals in higher occupational class.

Conclusions and Implications: Our analysis result showed that the mental health continued to deteriorate for low-income workers, which contradicted the findings of other studies that showed general improvements of mental health associated with lifting the lockdown. Economic recessions place a disproportionate burden on low-income essential workers, with significant impacts on mental health. During the pandemic, essential workers were at increased risk of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, compared with those in nonessential work. This suggests the need to recognize the challenge this vital workforce face in pandemics and have an important public health and policy implication to protect this population.