Vermont Study: Low-Income Groups Hit Harder By COVID-19
A new Vermont survey shows that low-income residents have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the survey, conducted by faculty in the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine between April 30 and May 13, Vermonters overwhelmingly supported the state’s social distancing guidelines.
Nearly 90% strongly agreed or agreed with the current approaches to social distancing, from closing schools (91%) to closing bars and restaurants (91%) to limiting mobility outside the home (93%) to forbidding mass gatherings (95.4%) to being required to wear a mask outside the home (85%).
But while the agreeable attitudes ultimately led to significantly fewer contacts overall, the survey showed not all groups benefited equally. Those living in apartments and mobile homes and at the lower end of the income scale had more contact with other adults, seniors and children after the lockdown than those living in single family homes and condos and higher income Vermonters, who could often work from home.
“For the less well-off and especially those on the margins, the pandemic presented much more of a health risk than for more affluent Vermonters,” said Dr. Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, an assistant professor and vice chair for Population Health Science in the Department of Radiology at the Larner College of Medicine’s and the survey’s principal investigator.
In addition, though the social distancing measures played a role in Vermont’s comparatively low infection rate, they took a heavy economic toll.
The survey found that 10% of Vermonters lost their jobs, and 28% saw their income reduced after social distancing guidelines were put in place. A total of 16% of respondents were concerned about their ability to pay for basic necessities like food and rent, 19% used savings to cover monthly spending, and 10% said they had reduced ability to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
As with social distancing, the economic impact was not felt equally, van den Broek-Altenburg said.
“Lower income Vermonters are being hit disproportionately,” she said. “That’s largely because those in higher income groups tend to have jobs where they can tele-work from home. That’s not an option for most low-income workers, so many lost their jobs and their income.”
The survey also asked respondents if they postponed medical care during the pandemic. Nearly half the population held off on getting care, and nearly one-third were concerned about the consequent health impacts. The mostly commonly deferred areas of care were dental services (27%) and primary care (23%).
Reasons given for deferring care included the following: having a newly developed problem that could be treated later, the care would be preventative, or the health issue had been ongoing. But income level and job loss were also strongly correlated with those deferring all kinds of care, said van den Broek-Altenburg.
“Those in disadvantaged populations are also being hit harder when it comes to necessarily healthcare needs or chronic conditions,” she said.
The survey found that, while those who were deferring care were less likely to use telemedicine than those who were not, older participants were more likely to use the service, as were those with chronic conditions. Those who deferred mental health services were also significantly more likely to use telemedicine.
The Vermont survey was conducted in conjunction with similar surveys in Italy, the United Kingdom, France and China, and in other states.
The comparative data make clear that the pandemic’s relatively light impact in Vermont has less to do with state residents’ compliance with social distancing guidelines, although their behaviors helped, than with population density. China’s Hubei Province, where the pandemic’s epicenter, Wuhan, is located, has 310 people per square mile; Italy has an average of 201 people per square; Vermont has just 26 and Burlington 98.
The key takeaway from the survey is that Vermonters have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic across the board, said van den Broek-Altenburg.
“In the future we need policies that are differentiated and much more targeted towards particular age groups, particularly income groups and particular professions,” she said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
The survey sample is a representative group drawn from primary care patients in the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Vermont hospital service area. The research team used census data to weight the sample so it was representative of the Vermont population.
Source: University of Vermont
Pedersen, T. (2020). Vermont Study: Low-Income Groups Hit Harder By COVID-19. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/06/16/vermont-study-low-income-groups-hit-harder-by-covid-19/157390.html