UC Berkeley research unit finds increased risks for racial minorities during pandemic

Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies COVID-19 impacts people of color california
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People of color in California expressed concerns over their health, safety and economic well-being amid the COVID-19 pandemic in a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, or IGS, poll.

The poll results were released Wednesday in partnership with campus-based California Initiative for Health Equity and Action, or Cal-IHEA. The poll, which was conducted online April 16 to April 20 and involved 8,800 registered California voters, is one of the first in the United States to measure the impacts of COVID-19.

“We have mainly polled on elections, but we saw the pandemic was posing such a huge set of public health, economic and political questions that we wanted to see how Californians were thinking about that,” said Eric Schickler, interim co-director of IGS.

White respondents and their families, according to the poll, are more likely than racial minority groups to be working from home during the pandemic.

Of the employed white poll respondents, 61.3% have been able to work from home, which is nearly a 20-point difference compared to Latinx respondents. In addition, 53.3% of Black and 58.9% of Asian American respondents reported they are able to work from home.

“Latinos and African Americans are less likely to be able to work from home, so they feel more exposed and more vulnerable and less excited about opening backing up prematurely,” said Cal-IHEA Director Hector Rodriguez. “This is reflective of their increased exposures given those underlying vulnerabilities in terms of the type of work that they do, which have long been associated with health.”

Other concerns included in the poll are the degree of an individual’s physical exposure to others and the relationship between health insecurity and economic security. The poll found that 26.5% of white respondents reported facing a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem as a result of working in close proximity to other individuals. Of Latinx respondents, however, 56.7% expressed these concerns, with 43.8% of Black respondents and 44.4% of Asian American respondents reporting the same.

In regard to economic risks, 83.2% of respondents said COVID-19 has presented some type of threat to their finances — 44.1% said their finances are at “major” risk. According to the poll, 59.6% of Latinx respondents reported being at this “major” risk level, followed by 53.8% of Black respondents, 44.6% of Asian American respondents and 37.3% of white respondents.

Although many respondents find themselves facing financial risk, the majority support shelter-in-place measures to limit the spread of the disease. About 82% support this measure to some degree, according to the poll, and 70% of those who support the measure expressed concern over the measure ending early.

“Given the social influences during this pandemic, it was really important to put our minds together,” Rodriguez said. “To really grapple with the social determinants as it relates to COVID-19 and how public attitudes are being shaped by the pandemic and what’s happening to everyone.”

Contact Thao Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.