COVID-19

How losing a job can make the pandemic worse

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

How losing a job can make the pandemic worse

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

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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