Can’t worry about COVID: Workers with more financial insecurity follow fewer safety guidelines

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The coronavirus pandemic has prompted governments around the world to place public health above economic success. For people just trying to make ends meet however, a study finds workers can’t afford to see things that way. Researchers from Washington State University say workers who are experiencing financial insecurity during lockdown are less likely to follow COVID-19 health guidelines.

The study of 745 people across 43 states finds areas where unemployment benefits and COVID restrictions are lower caused workers to ignore more policies regarding social distancing. The team adds people who are fearing for their job and financial welfare are more likely to take more trips outside and observe fewer hygiene recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

“We all have a finite set of resources at our disposal, whether it’s money, time or social support, and individuals who have fewer of those resources appear less able to enact the CDC-recommended guidelines,” WSU psychology professor Tahira Probst says in a university release. “The extent to which economic stressors will impact that behavior is in part a function of where we live. Having a fall back, a strong safety net to catch you, seemed to help mitigate the risk factors of job insecurity that was otherwise associated with less adherence to the guidelines.”

Overall, the study reveals a seven-percent decline in compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines among workers facing job insecurity. Researchers add this drop took place across states with lower unemployment benefits.

Quarantining over COVID is easier when you’re financially secure

Study authors find states with much stricter policies during the pandemic see better compliance from residents. Much of this however still has to do with money. Workers in these states who are financially secure tend to obey more coronavirus restrictions than others. Researchers reveal financially stable employees had a 13 percent higher rate of compliance with public health orders. Most of these stricter states imposed stay-at-home orders and shut down non-essential businesses.

Workers in states with fewer public restrictions followed fewer CDC recommendations whether they’re financially secure or not. Researchers gathered their data from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online crowdsourcing platform. The average household income for the group was between $50,000 and $59,000, slightly lower than the U.S. average of $60,293.

“It’s important to acknowledge as a society that there are certain segments of the population, namely the economically secure, that are better equipped to follow the CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Probst explains. “This is a red flag since precarious work and financial strain can also co-occur with other COVID-19 risk factors and pre-existing health disparities.”

The study began in April, but the WSU team is now following up with groups every one to two months. They’re hoping to continue to see how the public balances paying their bills with curbing the spread of COVID-19.

The study appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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