Health

The Pandemic’s Impact on Low-Income Communities

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt around the globe and will continue to cause strain for years to come.

Covid-19 has changed the world in so many ways. Measures to contain the virus have led to the closure of schools and businesses, leading to a lack of available work or strict employment limitations, and social distancing has caused isolation, perpetuating already prominent mental health issues.  The impact of Covid-19 is being felt around the globe and will continue to cause strain for years to come.

Long-term consequences of the pandemic are already evident in parts of the world, with low-income communities suffering the most. School closures, job loss, and the strain on both the economy and the healthcare system have taken their toll, and the road back to righteousness will be long and challenging.  

Youth and their families who fall into the low-income bracket are the ones who need help the most in the form of ongoing support that is not yet present and available to them in many places. However, it is the youth of today that are suffering the most. Unable to socialize with friends, being cooped up in the house, and transitioning to online education may have dire consequences in the future.  

Widening the Digital Divide:

One thing that Covid-19 created was an active online community that barely existed before. Schools around the world transitioned from the classroom to the Web to facilitate learning. Kids as young as five were suddenly connected and communicating online through educational platforms, school forums, or other acceptable outlets.

Unfortunately, this quick transition to online learning left many low-income families scrambling to find a way to support themselves and their children. It has worked to widen the digital divide that was already prominent in society today. For low-income youth and their families, costs associated with online learning add up fast. The cost of internet service alone is a struggle for many, never mind the cost of the equipment required to participate in online learning adequately. When you are living paycheck to paycheck, purchasing a laptop may seem like a stranger’s dream. Yet, thousands of parents across the U.S. were forced to do just that.

Technology, while an excellent tool for learning, is expensive. Low-income families are not necessarily in a position to run out to their local computer store to stock up on laptops, webcams, and microphones.

The Covid-19 pandemic has deeply impacted students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. School closures have left parents struggling to find sufficient care, and children have lost more than a year’s worth of their education, along with the socialization that comes with it. A lack of internet or the means to connect to peers, school, and homework has left many in turmoil.

In 2017, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission released data that showed 99 percent of Canadians from high socioeconomic backgrounds had access to the internet at home compared to only 69 percent of Canadians from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Students from more affluent backgrounds have had an easier time transitioning to online learning and have had more supports than those in a low-income tax bracket.  Attendance during the pandemic is a serious issue. Data show that up to two students have not attended a single online learning class for every five students enrolled. A lack of consistent internet access plays a role in this attendance but so does a lack of access to devices and the parent’s economic status.

One of the biggest concerns with a lack of engagement in online learning is the likelihood that it will lead students to leave school entirely. One study that Kamenetz did in 2020 shows precisely this outcome.

Economic Stone Walls

As non-essential businesses were forced to close, many people were left without jobs. Those who were lucky enough to retain employment had to deal with paid leave that was heavily associated with income. In Canada, for example, government relief relied on prior-year tax returns to ensure eligibility. Job loss most occurred in low-paying, part-time employment sectors and perpetuated a prevalent problem for those who were already struggling to make ends meet.

For youth, the closing of businesses meant there were no summer jobs or part-time positions to fill. Youth employment fell on average 15% at the start of the pandemic.

Precarious work is a staple of society. Millions of people around the world rely on this form of employment to buy the necessities of life. Increased unemployment rates and children who are now home all day long have significantly strained families, especially in single-parent households. Youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are in a more vulnerable position and are most at risk of suffering long-term consequences from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented nature of current events, research on the long-term effects is scarce. The world has faced prolonged school closures and economic disruptions in the past. History can therefore hint at a likely outcome from this ongoing pandemic. Studies done following Hurricane Katrina, for example,  show that the impact of adverse experiences in childhood that lead to extended school closures results in lower graduation rates in school-aged youth and college students. Instead, adverse events tend to shift focus from education to survival, eventually pushing students out of the classroom in an attempt to seek ways of supporting their families.

The Mental Health Connection

 Isolation is handled differently by everyone. While some may be okay following the pandemic, others will not recover as well. Some youth are sure to be more deeply impacted by economic and social strains than others.

U.S. adults have reported elevated rates of depression since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Youth, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers have reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation. Public health should improve mental health supports to deal with ongoing struggles and help individuals cope with increasing mental health issues during and following the ongoing pandemic.

For many, being cut off from the outside world has put tremendous strain on their mental wellbeing. Thoughts (and attempts) of suicide have increased ten-fold around the globe. Sadly, many of these attempts have occurred in youth under the age of 18.

Many low-income students in the U.S. rely on the school system for socialization, education, and an escape from daily hardships. It is hard to understand unless you have lived it, but school is a safe space for some youth. Troubles or turmoil at home are a distant memory for a few hours a day, and children from disadvantaged environments can enjoy freedom without their daily concerns.  

 While being free from household problems is one benefit of the school system that causes significant concern during the pandemic, schools also help youth form healthy habits. Breakfast and lunch programs, which are widely used across the United States, ensure that kids get adequate nutrition. For some, this is the only access they have to healthy food.

Covid-19 impacts every area of life and leaves those who already struggle to gasp for air or suffer as they drown.  

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