(Montpelier) - Pandemic-related disruptions in school and child care; inequitable divisions of household labor; increases in depression, anxiety, and substance use; and economic concerns greatly impacted Vermonters in the last year, according to a just-released survey about the impacts of COVID-19 on American households. Survey respondents had clear recommendations for policies and resources that would improve their overall well-being: economic relief via stimulus payments, extended unemployment benefits, increased access to child care; increased access to mental health supports; and greater access to technology.
Conducted between October 2020 and February 2021 by a team of researchers from University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, and Indiana University, survey questions covered employment, business operations, household finances, labor productivity, child care and education, mental and physical health, and substance use.
“The survey results reinforce what we know: the pandemic has exacerbated existing gender and economic inequality,” said Jessica Nordhaus, Director of Change The Story VT, an initiative of the Vermont Commission on Women, Vermont Women’s Fund and Vermont Works for Women, who helped distribute the survey in Vermont. “Responding to these needs improves the lives, livelihood, and well-being of women, their families and our economy. In our current joint campaign with Let’s Grow Kids -- #MakeWorkWorkForUs -- we are sharing Vermonters’ stories about the need for affordable, quality child care, paid family and medical leave, pay equity, and health care.”
Researchers asked respondents what policies or resources would be most helpful to manage the impacts of COVID-19. One-time stimulus payments and greater access to mental health services were the top recommendations cited overall by Vermonters. Vermont respondents were significantly more likely than national respondents to indicate the need for greater access to technological support. The policy recommendations differed significantly when factoring income:
The findings below are likely to underestimate the magnitude of socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vermont households, as survey respondents’ average income is higher than the Vermont Census average income. Because of their higher income level, households in the survey have likely had access to more financial resources than most Vermonters.
- 20% of respondents stated they are financially dependent on their partner and 8% said they have relied on family or community members for financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 52% of respondents stated that their income has remained roughly the same during the pandemic, while 34% saw decreases in overall income. Roughly 13% of respondents saw an increase in overall income.
- 40% of respondents saw household savings remain the same, while 31% of respondents reported reduced savings.
- 32% of respondents reported an increase in household spending to meet essential needs, while 25% of respondents reported a decrease, the remainder of respondents (42%) indicated no change in their household spending.
Work, Productivity and Disruptions in Child Care and Education
Overall, 79% of survey respondents with children attributed disruptions in school and child care to varying levels of productivity loss in their jobs, and 55% of respondents with kindergarten-age children reported their productivity being extremely affected by disruptions in child care. Survey respondents with school age children were more likely to specify help with child care as a policy solution. “We saw this play out in both state and national employment statistics where women’s workforce participation fell back to 1980’s levels,” said Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on Women, Cary Brown. “A generation’s worth of progress has been undone. Nationally, women left the workforce at four times the rate of men, including 1.5 million moms of school-aged children nationwide.”
“Even before COVID, 3 out of 5 of Vermont’s youngest children didn’t have access to the child care they needed. The pandemic made the child care crisis -- and its profound impacts on our children, families, workforce and economy -- impossible to ignore,” said Let’s Grow Kids CEO Aly Richards.
The impacts of pandemic disruptions on children's academic progress and emotional development were strong areas of concern for parents. More than 50% of parents with elementary-school aged children or older reported being quite-to-extremely concerned about their academic progress, and the majority of parents were concerned with children's social-emotional development.
Household Division of Labor
Women in relationships with men consistently reported they did more household labor than their partners. Men also indicated women did more, illustrating both existing gender inequity and the exacerbating effects of the pandemic on homelife. This included spending more time cleaning, doing laundry, managing children’s schedules, and supervising remote learning. Women in relationships with women reported sharing household labor more evenly.
Mental Health and Substance Use
Study findings also indicated high rates of mental health concerns caused by stress. One in four respondents reported experiencing an anxiety or panic attack in the last four weeks of completing the survey. One in three respondents reported moderate or severe anxiety and depression. The 18- to 24-year-old age group reported the highest levels of mental health challenges, with half reporting panic attacks and nearly 40% reporting moderate or severe anxiety and depression. Divorced respondents reported the highest levels of moderate or severe anxiety and depression, at 41%.
Survey data clearly show the incidence of mental health concerns were inversely proportional to income. Twenty-one percent of respondents from households making less than $30,000/year reported severe anxiety and depression, with each successive income bracket reporting lower anxiety and depression scores.
Researchers reported that 41% of Vermont respondents, compared to 38% of all survey respondents nationwide, had increased alcohol usage since the beginning of the pandemic, and 48% of Vermont respondents reported increased cannabis usage.
“We're very appreciative of the over 500 Vermonters who shared their experiences. We also thank lead researcher Marta Vicarelli from the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Policy and her team for inviting us to help distribute their national survey in our state, and for preparing a Vermont-specific analysis for us,” said Meg Smith, director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, a Change The Story VT partner.
Read the full survey report Impacts of COVID-19 on Vermont Households: a Survey Analysis. (Vicarelli, Marta, Meredith Canada, Yu Ya Htut Tin, Anna Gishin, Madeline Leue, Elizabeth Murphy, Aryen Shrestha, Yash Tyagi. 2021. “Impacts of COVID-19 on Vermont Households: a Survey Analysis.” School of Public Policy, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA, USA)
Launched by the Vermont Commission on Women, Vermont Works for Women, the Vermont Women’s Fund, Change The Story VT, and Let’s Grow Kids, #MakeWorkWorkForUs is a joint campaign to focus on solutions to support people of all genders – particularly women – to fully participate in the workforce.