Deaths from COVID-19 are not the only pandemic-related deaths researchers are focusing on. A new study out of the University of California San Francisco estimates that 30,000 Americans have died due to pandemic-related unemployment.
“Unemployment can have consequences in terms of stress, prompting substance abuse. It can prompt suicide. Economic crises that push people to extreme measures,” explained Alicia Riley, a postdoctoral scholar who helped conduct the study.
Thirty-seven percent of the American workforce is made up of people with a high school education or less, but the study found those people made up 72 percent of those 30,000 deaths. It's a disparity that Riley says shows the burden that is placed on rural communities or communities of color where help is less readily available.
“People get their health insurance through their employer, and so if they lose that, it can cause an increase in other types of disease such as cancer, heart disease--things that would be preventable if they were able to get the care they needed on time,” she said.
Riley says the effects the study researched may also take time to manifest as the Congressional Budget Office estimates unemployment in the U.S. will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
“It’s sad that it’s this way,” said John Austin, who lives in Tennessee. “I’m relying on family members to help me until that shining light does come.”
Austin, a diabetic, lost his job as a contractor last February, and along with it, his insurance that helped pay for nearly $300 of insulin each month.
He says when he applied for disability coverage, he was denied. He was also denied extended unemployment, and he now worries he will not be able to afford medical bills if an emergency arises.
“It’s not a fear; it’s a fact,” he said.
Riley says resources like the American Red Cross, as well as local groups like the Rural Health Information Hub, can be good resources for people who are in need of health insurance.