What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
COVID & Unemployment

How losing a job can make the pandemic worse

Andy Uhler Oct 15, 2020
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A doctor prepares to take blood from a patient for a COVID-19 antibody test in Miami Lakes, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

How losing a job can make the pandemic worse

Andy Uhler Oct 15, 2020
Heard on:
A doctor prepares to take blood from a patient for a COVID-19 antibody test in Miami Lakes, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Last week, 898,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment. That’s more than the week before and more than economists expected.

For a lot of those Americans, that also means they’ve lost their employer-backed health insurance: 69% of workers had employer-sponsored health insurance as of last year. According to a new study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and the Commonwealth Fund, almost 8 million workers have lost jobs that provided health insurance for them and their families since March.

What risk does this present during the pandemic, and what options do those folks have?

That data on how many people have lost their employer-sponsored insurance is just an estimate. But Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, “We know because there’s so much job loss and so much income loss that there are people who are certainly at risk for losing their coverage if they haven’t actually lost it already.”

But if that’s your situation, there are some other options depending on where you live.

“We’ve estimated probably 85% of these adults are eligible for either marketplace coverage or for Medicaid coverage,” Pollitz said.

Even when those options are available, said Steve Woodbury, professor at Michigan State University and senior economist at the Upjohn Institute, the newly uninsured might not be able to get them.

“This is very disruptive. You’re moving from an employer-sponsored plan to something else,” he said. “And just the time that it takes to go about searching and these people are worried enough already because they’re unemployed. It’s a hardship.”

And Woodbury said a global pandemic is about the worst time to have more people without health insurance. 

Stan Dorn, senior fellow at the consumer advocacy group Families USA, said that’s because the uninsured are 75% less likely to go to the doctor if they need to.

“That means if you come down with COVID-19, you don’t know it and you start experiencing symptoms, you are understandably going to put off getting care because you’re worried about going bankrupt,” he said.

Dorn said the consequences of so many uninsured are huge. Not just for those experiencing it, but for the nation as a whole. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.