Abstract: No Calm before the Storm: Immigrant and Racialized Low-Income Mothers before and after COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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No Calm before the Storm: Immigrant and Racialized Low-Income Mothers before and after COVID-19

Saturday, January 14, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Marci Ybarra, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Frania Mendoza Lua, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: Government pandemic provisions occurred alongside an existing safety net that has traditionally excluded or dissuaded low-income immigrant and racialized citizen mothers from participation (Crenshaw, 1989; Roberts, 1999; Quadagno, 1994; Fox, 2012). At the same time, immigrant and racialized citizen mothers also experience disproportionate surveillance and punishment from other public institutions that might shape their views on government, associated provisions, and other public institutions while also influencing socioeconomic well-being in the pandemic era (Roberts, 2011; Soss & Weaver, 2017; White, Stuart, & Morrissey, 2021; Menjívar, Gómez Cervantes, & Alvord, 2018). In this paper, we examine whether and how this larger context and history shaped immigrant and racialized citizen mothers’ resource-seeking strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: To understand these complexities, we draw on interviews before and following the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, with 42 low-income immigrant and racialized citizen mothers in Chicago. Both sets of interviews asked respondents about their perceptions of and experiences with political and institutional trust at the local, state, and national level; neighborhood quality; work; health and wellbeing, and the social safety net. Post pandemic interviews also asked about knowledge of public health measures, sources of information on the pandemic, and sources of trust and concern. Drawing from Detering & Waters (2018) 21st century approach to qualitative analysis, we implemented a flexible coding schema, where we first indexed transcripts and anchored content to the interview protocol using a priori questions and applied analytic codes to emergent themes.

Results: We find pre-pandemic disenfranchisement from multiple sources of public institutions, including but not limited to the safety net, was common among our respondents, increased in the wake of COVID-19, and in some instances impacted respondents’ post-pandemic socioeconomic circumstances and resource seeking strategies. For instance, experiences with poor treatment in safety net programs in the pre-pandemic period shaped respondents’ decisions to seek such benefits in the wake of COVID-19, with a nontrivial number choosing to forgo participation even when in dire need. Undocumented mothers, ineligible for federal pandemic provisions, expressed further and entrenched alienation from government due to their children’s exclusion from pandemic supports. While nonprofit assistance filled the gap for some, seeking these supports was largely dependent on pre-pandemic relationships with these organizations, which was the case for only 15 of our 42 respondents.

Conclusion & Implications: Findings suggest safety net expansion on its own may not offset pandemic effects without attention to alienation from and distrust in government and related public institutions. Finally, there is a need for a broader view of social and political forces that ultimately shape low-income immigrant and racialized citizen mothers and their children’s access to resources can that enhance their socio-economic wellbeing.