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Jennie E. Brand, University of California, Los Angeles and Sarah A. Burgard, University of Michigan

(THE CONVERSATION) Being unemployed isn’t just bad for your finances – it’s bad for your health. Losing a job can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Research also consistently shows that job loss and unemployment – even for just a few months – are also associated with poorer physical health, including increased risks of cardiovascular disease, hospitalization and death. These risks can last for years or even decades after a person returns to work.

As researchers studying the health effects of job loss and unemployment, we see plenty of reason to fear that the next wave of health problems linked to COVID-19 may come directly from the virus itself, or the pressure it exerts on health systems, but its effect on the labor market.

In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 25% of American adults reported that they or a member of their household had lost their job due to the pandemic. Of those who reported losing a job, half said they were still unemployed six months later. Racial and ethnic minorities have been hit hardest by job losses and deaths from the pandemic. These communities already face long-standing structural inequalities in living and working conditions that affect their employment prospects and can shape their financial recovery.

The health effects of job loss

It is not difficult to understand why the loss of a job, followed by a period of unemployment, can be harmful to a person’s health. The first few months after a job loss can reduce social support by straining people’s finances and psychological well-being and limiting their social interactions. People who lose health insurance at the same time as their job may not see a doctor if they become ill. The stress of losing a job can also lead people to increase their alcohol or drug use, eat poorly, exercise less, or develop poor sleep habits.

These risks persist even if a person receives unemployment benefits or obtains another job fairly quickly. Some research shows that a few months of unemployment can be associated with deterioration in long-term health and well-being. One study found that within a year of losing their jobs, death rates among them were up to twice as high, whether or not they got a new one and when, and remained 10% at 15% higher than expected for the next 20 years. years. If this increased risk rate continued indefinitely, the authors noted, losing a job at age 40 could reduce life expectancy by 1 to 1.5 years.

Other research has linked job loss to a higher risk of diseases such as hypertension and arthritis, and to twice the risk of heart attack and stroke. And just because people with poor health are more likely to lose their jobs. Our 2007 analysis showed that even after removing the influence of basic health and social background, people who lost their jobs were still more likely to report poor health.

Why job loss from a pandemic could be the next health crisis

While some of the data on which we base our concern comes from other recessions and economic downturns, such as the Great Recession of 2007-2009, we predict that even worse results could be achieved as a result of COVID-19. The peak unemployment rate during the Great Recession was 10%, while the peak unemployment rate in 2020 was almost 15%. Economic recovery is more precarious when pandemic restrictions are still in place, and some business operations have changed permanently, making it more difficult for some laid-off workers to return to their old jobs.

Additionally, many of those who have fallen seriously ill with COVID-19 are experiencing slow recoveries. They may not be able to work at their previous abilities for a while. Other adults may have to take on new caregiving responsibilities because loved ones have remained sick or have died and left behind others in need of care.

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What can governments do?

Already, preliminary analyzes are emerging on the potential health effects of COVID-related unemployment, particularly among vulnerable populations. In a recent New Zealand study, researchers estimate that job loss linked to a pandemic could lead to a 1% increase in overall cardiovascular disease rates for every additional 1% increase in unemployment. However, among the most vulnerable indigenous Maori population in the country, the disease rate rose to 4% for every 1% increase in unemployment. The authors’ model also suggests that the health effects of pandemic unemployment will persist over the next two decades.

This suggests the need for stronger support for unemployed people, including continued health insurance coverage, to help cushion the economic cost of job loss and thus mitigate some of its health consequences. The United States has some threads of a social safety net, like up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in most states, and Congress created additional pandemic aid when it passed the law CARES in 2020. But that was not enough to prevent a huge increase. in food insecurity and pantry use last year.

Given the potential long-term negative health effects of job loss, one way to protect workers may be to help companies avoid laying them off. Policy makers should continue to direct resources to the employers who operate the businesses and the workers employed. If layoffs are inevitable, create incentives to rehire laid-off workers as soon as possible. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in April requiring companies in hard-hit industries such as hospitality and event management to rehire workers made redundant during the pandemic when jobs become available.

To deal with the full health consequences of the pandemic, we believe that we need to think broadly about interventions and policies. We need to recognize the scale of job losses in households and industries, not just in media headline workplaces, and the uneven burden felt by already disadvantaged workers before COVID-19. The real solution is not just to return to work, but to provide Americans with secure jobs that pay a living wage and enable economic recovery while people and health care systems heal.

This article was produced in collaboration with Knowable Magazine, a digital publication covering science and its emerging frontiers.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/why-widespread-health-woes-could-follow-from-pandemic-driven-job-losses-160224.