Pandemic Employment Changes Linked to Psychological Distress

More than 40 percent of US adults reported job loss or other negative employment changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, placing them at increased risk of psychological distress, reports a study in the November Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The mental health effects of pandemic-related job changes appear greater in Black and Asian workers, according to the new research by Jian Li, MD, PhD, of Fielding School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,510 US adults who were employed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was conducted during the Fall 2020 surge of COVID-19.

Forty-three percent of participants reported negative employment changes due to COVID-19, including pay cuts in about 19 percent, temporary unemployment in 10.5 percent, and permanent job loss in nearly 14 percent. Black and Hispanic respondents were most likely to report permanent job loss.

Negative job changes were associated with a significant increase in psychological distress (measured on the Kessler Psychological Distress scale). Permanent job loss had the greatest mental health impact, followed by pay cuts and temporary unemployment.

Pandemic-related job changes had a disproportionate mental health impact in racial minority groups. In particular, Black and Asian respondents were more severely affected by permanent job loss.

The results are consistent with previous studies showing mental health effects of job loss. However, the odds of mental illness were increased by over 100 percent with COVID-19-related unemployment, compared to increases of 20 to 30 percent in studies performed before the pandemic.

The "extensive, pervasive, and continually evolving" employment-related effects of COVID-19 have important implications for the workforce in the United States and around the world, Dr. Li and colleagues believe. They conclude: "Given the protracted state of the economic and employment-related effects of the pandemic, comprehensive government and employer policy interventions, as well as considerations of racial equity, may be necessary to prevent further deterioration of workers' mental health."
About the Author
Dr. Li may be contacted for interviews at
ACOEM (, an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.


Matthews TA, Chen L, Chen Z, et al. Negative employment changes during the COVID-19 pandemic and psychological distress. J Occup Environ Med. 2021;63(11):931-937.