School of Public Policy Team Studying Socioeconomic Effects of COVID-19

Left to right: Madeline Leue, Elizabeth Murphy and Marta Vicarelli
Left to right: Madeline Leue, Elizabeth Murphy and Marta Vicarelli

School of Public Policy (SPP) student Madeline Leue, 2020 alumna Elizabeth Murphy and Marta Vicarelli, assistant professor in SPP and the department of economics, are collaborating on a research project that tackles one of the most pressing issues of the day: the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on women.

The study, “Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 in US Households,” utilizes an extensive survey that asks about respondents’ financial, physical and mental health, as well as the effects that school and daycare closures have had on their work and family lives.

“It felt really important to get these measures while they were timely,” said Leue, a student in SPP’s master of public policy and administration program. “We’re at the beginning of an unstudied chapter of American history. We wanted to take a look at how people were being affected and how that varied by gender and race and socioeconomic factors and to get some good measures early in the pandemic.”

The study developed from a project that Leue and Murphy did last spring in SPP’s Public Policy Workshop course, taught by Vicarelli. Working with the nonprofit Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, they conducted a survey on the factors that keep women in the region unemployed or underemployed, such as limited access to transportation or to quality, affordable childcare and eldercare.

The students decided to continue their research into the summer, as an independent study project with Vicarelli. The new project takes into account the effects of the pandemic, with the goal of helping to create policy that addresses the emerging needs of women and families. Meredith Canada, a doctoral student at Indiana University, helped with the survey, and Yu Ya Htut Tin, a UMass undergraduate economics and math major, and Yash Tyagi, a recent graduate of the Isenberg School of Management, are assisting with the project. The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts is supporting the work by disseminating the survey through its national network.

The survey includes questions about respondents’ employment status, the effects of COVID-19 on their financial situation, their physical and mental health, access to school or daycare for their children, and food security, among other topics. While the study is especially concerned with the effects on women, the survey is not restricted to people who identify as women.

The project will collect data at the national level and will include a component that focuses specifically on Massachusetts. “The results of this investigation may provide policy recommendations for contingency plans or resilience plans in Massachusetts,” Vicarelli said. “Everything we rely on in terms of socio-economic risks analysis and mitigation strategies are from a pre-COVID world. Policy guidelines do not align with the current conditions. In order to develop effective resilience plans, it is imperative to collect new data and to do it fast.”

The project has personal resonance for Murphy, Leue and Vicarelli, all of whom have young children and have had to balance increased family needs with their work. “As we’re doing our literature review and reading about women’s experiences during this pandemic, we are living this project,” Murphy said. “It’s very, very relatable to us to have schools closed and daycares closed with limited options. … It’s research that we really care about, and it’s really close to home at this moment in time.”

Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 on US Householdssurvey: