Understanding Economic Impacts

How has the world of work changed?

The pandemic’s impact on the health of the economy has been nearly as devastating as its impact on physical health. IU researchers have illuminated the pandemic’s effect on jobs, industry, and more.

Job losses and economic costs

In May 2020, as U.S. unemployment soared to 14.7 percent and job losses escalated, an IU research team examined exactly who was losing jobs in what occupational areas and why. They determined that job losses early in the U.S. pandemic were greater for Hispanics; younger workers, ages 20 to 24; women; workers with large families of four or more children; and less-educated workers.

By early summer, the researchers identified a tremendous amount of churn between employment and unemployment, despite reopenings. Many workers returned to their previous employers, but again, the burden of job loss was borne by disadvantaged groups. The research team, including Kosali Simon and Coady Wing of the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, says that understanding how job loss costs particular groups more than others can guide policymakers in providing extra protection and support for those groups during and after crisis periods.

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Building on earlier research with IU Bloomington collaborators Thuy Nguyen, Felipe Lozano Rojas, and Ana Bento, IU researchers also observed that people voluntarily stayed home as COVID-19 spread, even before mandated stay-at-home orders, reacting more to news about the pandemic than to mandates. The same appears to be true as states lifted restrictions – increased mobility was due to factors such as news of declining cases.

The findings suggest that providing people with timely and accurate information and crafting more targeted policies, such as protections for the immune-compromised and elderly, might be more effective in mitigating the pandemic than blunt policies such as stay-at-home orders that come with high costs.

One such cost is the impact on crime rates. An IU study found that impacts on crime early in the pandemic were clear and specific to the type of crime. Domestic violence  and vandalism calls increased significantly, while other crimes such as burglary, robbery, assault/battery, and vehicle theft remained nearly the same. The study was conducted by IUPUI O’Neill School Professor Jeremy Carter, whose work on crime analysis and policing earned him a 2020 IUPUI Research Trailblazer Award.

COVID's impact on low income households

A stack of various overdue utility bills.

According to a survey carried out by IU researchers, the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on an already vulnerable population—low-income households in the U.S.—and is likely to add more households to that population. As unemployment persists, many will have little to no social safety net, creating desperate circumstances and moving a whole new population of households into energy insecurity, especially low-income households headed by Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans.

This ongoing work by Sanya Carley and David Konisky, also of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, has surveyed more than 1,800 Americans at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line and includes two rounds of data analysis so far that highlight the significant problems vulnerable populations face in paying utility bills, putting food on their tables, and remaining in their homes.

Helping nurses prepare

Nursing may top the list of jobs transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as nurses all over the world have served on the pandemic's front lines, they’ve used social media to share about their experiences. A spring 2020 Twitter analysis by an IUPUI researcher revealed what nurses were feeling, such as anxiety over the need for PPE. The study shined a light on the special roles nurses have played during the historic COVID-19 pandemic and how both they and the healthcare institutions that employ them can better prepare and plan for the future.

Wendy Miller carried out the social media analysis. An ICU nurse herself, Miller is also an associate professor in the IU School of Nursing. Her work in areas of chronic disease and patient care earned her a 2020 IUPUI Research Trailblazer Award.

Using chatbot technology to help medical care providers

Chatbot technology can ease burdens for medical care providers by giving guidance to users seeking COVID-19 screening info, which is good news, since chatbots are fast and scalable, available to meet surges in demand and provide round-the-clock service at a low operational cost. An IU study found that as long as the provider using the chatbot is perceived as trustworthy and reputable, then users viewed chatbots no differently than human agents.

Alan Dennis, Antino Kim, and others at the IU Kelley School of Business conducted the study.