A new study published Thursday is one of the first to attempt to measure deaths during the pandemic that were not caused by the virus itself, but by the economic devastation it caused. The study estimates that the rise in unemployment seen last spring helped cause an additional 30,000 deaths among working-age adults in the United States over the past year.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) analyzed several data sources to come up with their numbers, including government-compiled unemployment and mortality data reported in 2020. Last year saw the highest monthly unemployment rate: 14.7% in April 2020: seen since the Great Depression. They then mapped that data to previous estimates of how much a sudden rise in unemployment can contribute to excess deaths that would not have happened otherwise.
According to his calculations, the decline in jobs related to the pandemic during the spring will lead to an excess death toll of 30,231 Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 from April 2020 to March 2021.
The team’s findings, published in the American Journal of Public Health, it carries some uncertainty. Using different assumptions about the risk of an increase in unemployment deaths, or relying on different measures of unemployment (some measures include people who can work but are not currently looking for work as unemployed, for example, while others do not) changed their math. So, in different scenarios, unemployment-related deaths related to the pandemic ranged from 8,315 to 201,968.
Because the study’s findings are only based on modeling the expected death toll, it cannot show us exactly what may have caused these deaths. But job loss is known to contribute to worse physical and mental health, often because people also end up losing their health insurance. The role of a suspected factor, suicide, is less clear. Some early evidence has He suggested that suicides are unlikely to have increased significantly in the United States in the past year. However, other data have shown that other health problems possibly related to spikes in unemployment, such as drug overdose, became more frequent.
What is clear is that the impact of these excess deaths, like those directly attributed to the viral disease, was not shared equally among different racial and socioeconomic groups of Americans. According to the study, about 72% of this excess deaths involved Americans without a college degree, even though this group only accounts for 37% of working-age Americans overall. Black Americans, men, and people age 45 and older were also disproportionately likely to die in their analysis.
It is difficult to separate the indirect effects of a natural disaster, especially one that has lasted as long as the Covid-19 pandemic. Some people have argued that aggressive measures to contain the pandemic, which have at times included the closure of businesses such as bars and restaurants, have been counterproductive, in part due to the consequences of potential job losses. However, some countries, including New Zealand, were able to completely stop the spread of the pandemic within their borders through these measures, allowing to recover strongly from its recessions.
In any case, the US. has not done a good job of stopping the pandemic, with almost half a million deaths directly attributed to covid-19, or in keep financially struggling Americans on a solid footing. Some of these are likely the deaths could have been prevented with simply better policy, a lesson the authors hope we can learn in the second year of covid-19.
“Several different programs and policies could help prevent unemployment-related deaths and their disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities,” lead author Ellicott Matthay, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Health and Community, told Gizmodo in an email. UCSF. Some of the most prominent include: (1) more generous and extended unemployment benefits with broader eligibility criteria, (2) programs to promote rapid reemployment after job loss, and (3) expanded access to health insurance and mental health / substance use services, especially for those who have been the hardest hit. “
This article has been updated with comments from the study’s lead author.