COVID-19 has affected the entire population, but in different ways. The elderly and immunocompromised are concerned about straight up mortality. But one section of the population that doesn’t get as much attention are young addicts and alcoholics in recovery. They are vulnerable in a different way. Instead of fearing death, they fear that being sent to isolation at home would result in relapse. The economic perils of losing one’s job also presents a serious relapse risk. Things can spiral very quickly for recovering addicts an alcoholics whose routines are ripped away, and who no longer have a source of income.
Young Recovering Addicts Face Economic Risks
Emilio Romero, 23, has mixed feelings about losing his job. It’s a major financial setback, but with two previous hospitalizations for pneumonia, a restaurant was not the safest place for the recent college graduate as the COVID-19 pandemic mushroomed.
“Working in a restaurant, there’s obviously exposure to a lot of people and dirty plates,” Romero said. “Even before I was officially laid off, I was getting pretty nervous about the way everything was playing out, for my own safety.”
Romero worked his last shift as a restaurant host in San Diego’s Little Italy on March 16, the same day San Diego County officials ordered all restaurants to switch to takeout and delivery only. Since then, COVID-19 cases in California have increased by more than 22 times, from 598 to 13,438 as of April 4. If his restaurant asked him back tomorrow, Romero said, he wouldn’t risk it. Yet he worries about his bank balance, which is barely sufficient to cover one month’s rent and expenses.
He’s considering asking his landlord whether he can break his lease to move back in with his parents. But he hopes a government check from the recently passed $2 trillion stimulus package will allow him to stay put as he continues to study for his real estate license — though it’s another industry jeopardized by the virus-driven economic downturn.
As measures to slow the pandemic decimate jobs and threaten to plunge the economy into a deep recession, young adults such as Romero are disproportionately affected. It is even worse for the young population in recovery as they rely on their jobs as a source of goal setting and keeping their minds occupied on constructive pursuits. An Axios Harris survey conducted through March 30 showed that 31% of respondents ages 18 to 34 had either been laid off or put on temporary leave because of the outbreak, compared with 22% of those 35 to 49 and 15% of those 50 to 64.
But They Should Also Be Worried about Health
But the economic fears of many young people, even ones with uncomplicated medical histories, are increasingly counterbalanced by health worries as they grow more aware of the risks of COVID-19. After hearing for months that it threatens primarily seniors and people with chronic diseases, they are now seeing how it imperils their own age group, with consequences such as lung failure.
“It’s natural that as we learn more, it’ll become clear that there are substantial costs for young people, even if the risks are, in fact, much greater for the elderly,” said Jeffrey Clemens, a health and labor economist at the University of California-San Diego. “Whether people want to work depends in part on other qualities of the job, one of which is whether it comes with serious health, physical or other risks.”
Despite the harsh economic impact, “epidemiologists and economists agree that the isolation is necessary, at least for a short period of time, both to avoid the big spike and to have the number of cases go down ideally to low-enough levels,” said Philip Oreopoulos, a labor economist at the University of Toronto and researcher for the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based National Bureau of Economic Research.
However, long-term unemployment and lower wages, associated with entering the workforce during a prolonged down economy, also carry health risks, including higher mortality, said Oreopoulos, who co-authored a paper on recessions and wages.
“That’s the part that gets me restless at night.”