Abstract: Necessary, Yet Mistreated: A Qualitative Study of Black Women Essential Workers Coping amidst COVID-19 (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.

Necessary, Yet Mistreated: A Qualitative Study of Black Women Essential Workers Coping amidst COVID-19

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun D, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel Goode, PhD, Asst Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Sarah Godoy, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Trenette Clark Goings, PhD, Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Kevan Shultz, Research Specialist, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Mimi Chapman, Ph.D., Professor, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
David Halpern, Research Specialist, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background: Though COVID-19 has challenged every segment of American society, individuals who earn low wages, particularly people of color, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, both as an infection and as a threat to their livelihoods and well-being. Most commonly, media coverage has focused on the strains and coping patterns of healthy, but shut-in, upper income individuals. Less attention has been paid to individuals, particularly women, who earn low wages, many of whom have been classified as “essential workers,” meaning that they have continued to work in their regular settings throughout stay-at-home orders. Little is known about how these “essential” women of color are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, understanding the ways these essential workers maintain the well-being of themselves and their families, as well as ascertaining what outside supports are most useful during a pandemic are critical to inform future service delivery and planning. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative study is to examine the experience of coping during COVID-19 in essential women of color.

Methods: We recruited a purposive sample (N = 22) who identified as women and people of color from a community-based sample of North Carolina residents. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted via zoom to gather relevant data on the experience of being an essential worker and to gather participants’ perspectives on coping and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were collected from August 2020-December 2020 and transcribed verbatim. Field notes were completed after each interview to include relevant contextual information. Transcripts were analyzed independently using qualitative content analysis and open coding to identify relevant codes and themes. Codes were compared for similarities and differences using constant comparison.

Results: We identified six themes that encapsulated these women’ coping experiences: spirituality (e.g., role of faith as a positive support), caregiving (e.g., increased stress from caring for family), social support (e.g., reconnecting with friends and family), eating behaviors (e.g., increase in snacking and late-night eating behaviors), managing racism (e.g., the role of racist events in coping), and managing COVID-19 fear and anxiety (e.g., uncertainty related to the pandemic increased stress).

Conclusion: Our findings suggest the experience of essential women of color in this sample was challenged by managing dual pandemics: racism and systemic oppression and COVID-19. Participants expressed the importance of spirituality and finding ways to stay connected to family and friends, while also reporting more negative coping related to increased eating that they labelled as unhealthy. Further, our findings help to shed light on the experiences of people of color who are essential workers, guide intervention development for this population, and inform policymakers of trends that may be important as we reflect on the lessons of the pandemic and prepare for similar situations in the future. Future research should focus on the development of culturally relevant tools of stress management to mitigate unwanted effects from pandemic-related stress and to continue to dismantle systems of oppression to improve general well-being for these workers and their families.