Abstract: Essential Yet Undervalued: Voices of Filipino/x American Low-Wage Frontline Workers during 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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462P Essential Yet Undervalued: Voices of Filipino/x American Low-Wage Frontline Workers during COVID-19

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Cindy Sangalang, Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
Background and Purpose:

Although the era of COVID-19 has re-affirmed the vital role of frontline workers in maintaining a functional society, the ongoing pandemic has taken a devastating toll on frontline workers’ health and well-being, particularly low-wage workers. In the United States, Filipino/x Americans represent a sizeable proportion of frontline workers in healthcare and service industries who have endured threats to their health, safety, and livelihood throughout the pandemic and against the broader backdrop of racialized and xenophobic hate directed toward Asian Americans. Drawing on a qualitative approach, the aim of the current study is to examine COVID-related occupational, family, and community-based stressors and health-related experiences among Filipino/x American low-wage frontline workers during the ongoing pandemic.


Data come from a broader mixed-methods study that used a community-based participatory research approach. A combination of convenience, criterion, and snowball sampling were used to recruit participants via community events, email invitations to leaders within professional associations and labor unions, and word of mouth. The current analysis is based on focus group data conducted in English and Tagalog with 35 Filipino/x American low-wage frontline workers across healthcare, education, and other service industries. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 75 years, and were predominantly foreign born (85.7%) as well as female (85.7% female, 11.4% male, and 2.8% genderqueer). We ensured cultural validity and appropriate translation and back-translation of interview questions in consultation with community members. To increase access and participation, we conducted nine focus groups, four in person and five via Zoom. Five of the nine focus groups were conducted exclusively in Tagalog, then transcribed and translated in English. After focus groups were transcribed they were coded drawing on thematic content analysis.


Themes that emerged included: sacrificing one’s health and psychological struggles, perceptions of profit over people, workplace trauma, fear of community violence, and strategies for coping with uncertainty. Notably, within the industries represented, participants were cognizant of class hierarchies among workers, in which those with less institutional power and control had heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19 and other occupational stressors. Several participants described stressors related to protecting vulnerable family members’ health in light of potential exposure to COVID-19, enduring pressures to remain working in light of economic precarity, fear related to anti-Asian violence, and ongoing mental health challenges.

Conclusion and Implications:

Despite discourse that portrays frontline workers as “pandemic heroes,” people of color, migrants, and women are disproportionately represented across this segment of the labor force, with many facing prior social and economic disadvantages that were exacerbated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current study findings based on experiences of Filipino/x American frontline workers can inform interventions and policies to improve health, work environments, and labor conditions in order to support communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Ultimately, data disaggregated by ethnic group among Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) can provide clarity and nuance in understanding disparities within the broader AAPI population.