New UCLA report highlights how the pandemic’s economic impacts are affecting Californians’ mental health


Soraya Marashi


A new UCLA Center for Health Policy Research report shows an increased risk of poor mental health among California adults impacted by economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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According to the report, difficulty paying for housing and other basic necessities as well as trouble finding and paying for childcare greatly increased the risk of poor mental health outcomes.

The report notes that marginalized groups disproportionately struggled to pay for housing and other basic necessities due to pandemic-related economic challenges.

“In 2020, Latinx adults were more likely than their white counterparts than their White counterparts to have lost a job (15% vs. 11%) or to have had income or work hours reduced (26% vs. 22%) due to the COVID-19,” the report states.

Black or African American adults were also 3 times more likely to have experienced difficulty paying their rent or mortgage compared to their white counterparts. Latinx and Asian adults were also more likely to have experienced difficulty paying their rent or mortgage compared to their white counterparts.

The report notes that in 2020, 12% of all adults experienced serious psychological distress and 11% had moderate psychological distress. 

The graph below shows the percentage of adults with serious psychological distress or moderate psychological distress also experiencing pandemic-related difficulties paying for basic necessities. 

The report notes that the inability to pay rent or mortgage and childcare difficulties increased the risk of severe impairment. Difficulties with childcare and income, as a result of the pandemic, also negatively impacted personal relationships and the social lives of adults. 

In order to address these high levels of psychological distress and associated work and life impairment, as well as minimize the mental health impacts of not being able to pay for basic necessities like healthcare and food, the report includes several recommendations for policymakers that are detailed below.

“Reopen and expand moratorium on evictions, reopen rental assistance applications, expedite appeals, and ensure equitable access for vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19”

The report recommends expanding these housing assistance programs to address eligible Californians who did not apply as well as those who applied but were denied or are still waiting to receive assistance.

Prioritize policies to address inequities in housing cost-burden and increase the supply of affordable housing”

The report recommends providing housing assistance to those paying 30% or more of their household income for housing, as well as helping more Black/African American and Latinx renters become homeowners.

“Expand eligibility and benefits for health care coverage and support efforts for universal coverage”

“Increase funding for early education and child care provisions”

The report recommends expanding the transitional kindergarten program in California, as well as expanding the child tax credit to provide financial support to in-need families.

“Prioritize policies to keep schools open and safe for in-person learning”

The report recommends continuing to support state and local school districts in implementing COVID-19 mitigation and safety measures. 

“Use better tools to measure economic security and inform policies and programs”

The report emphasizes that the average cost of basic living expenses can be up to 3 times higher than the amount in the federal poverty level guidelines in California.