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Disparities and Mitigation Behavior during COVID-19

Institute Working Paper 32 | Published May 13, 2020

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Disparities and Mitigation Behavior during COVID-19

Abstract

This paper uses a unique large-scale survey administered in April 2020 to assess disparities on several dimensions of wellbeing under rising COVID-19 infections and mitigation restrictions in the US. The survey includes three modules designed to assess different dimensions of well-being in parallel: physical health, mental and social health, and economic and financial security. The survey is unique among early COVID-19 data efforts in that provides insight on diverse dimensions of wellbeing and for subnational geographies. I find dramatic declines in wellbeing from pre-COVID baseline measures across both people and places. Place-level variation is not well explained by local characteristics that either precede or coincide with the pandemic. Analysis by demographic groups also shows large and unequal declines in wellbeing in the COVID era. Hispanic, younger, and lower-earning individuals all faced disproportionately worsening economic conditions, as did those with school-aged children. I conclude that place-based relief policies are unlikely to be efficient relative to support targeted to the neediest individuals. I also find that individual COVID-19 exposure and risk show concerning relationships with employment, protective behavior, and mental health. Those with direct COVID-19 exposure through their households continue working similar hours to others, and those with recent fever symptoms or elevated risk for COVID complications are not reducing their work hours or taking additional precautions, despite negative mental health status changes indicating concern. These findings suggest that some support policies might be directly targeted to households with confirmed infections or heighted risk.