‘No return to normal’: 43,000 American children lost a parent to COVID | Business and economic news
Ebony James’ 20-year-old son sometimes sits in his car for hours after parking in the family’s garage. His eight-year-old child stopped sleeping in his own bed after his father no longer sat with him reading the Bible until he fell asleep. Her 16 year old daughter “has completely stopped and just hasn’t spoken at all.”
This is how they deal with the sudden death of their father, Terrence, 49, from COVID-19 in February.
“Their reaction is a little different from mine. I notice that when I try to tell them about their father, they don’t want to talk. They just don’t do it, and that part hurts because sometimes I do, ”James, 49, told Al Jazeera. “What are you doing with this?”
Beyond the grief of losing her best friend and husband of 10 years, James, an education administrator, now faces a life she never imagined for herself as a 49-year-old widow. and single mother of three children. In addition to the grief, she worries about how she will manage to make ends meet for everyone.
Following Terrence’s death, there were immediate costs: his own medical bills after being hospitalized with COVID-19, a payment of $ 2,000 to a lawyer to put the house that Terrence had bought before their marriage in his name – and an additional $ 16,000 for his funeral. and burial after the expiration of his life insurance policy. Bills piled up for counseling sessions for her children as they went through their own grief.
James is now wondering if she can afford to pay the mortgage on their house in Fresno, Texas alone. Will she need to sell their cars? She applied for Medicaid and food stamps and was turned down, she said; her children are no longer insured because she could not afford a health insurance plan for them.
Her eldest son comes in with her labor money – help she wishes she didn’t need. Her daughter will have to leave the prestigious high school she attends.
“Now she’s going to have to go to a local school, which isn’t a very good school,” James said. “I just told her she was going to have to get the best grades in the class because I need her to get a scholarship. She wants to be a vet and I know I can’t afford it.
Families in the United States are grappling with losses like James’s: It is estimated that up to 43,000 children nationwide lost at least one parent to COVID-19 in February, study found in JAMA Pediatrics, this “20% increase in parental grief over a typical year.”
These losses are not only tragic for children, but can also lead to mental health issues, challenges in school and economic disparities that last for years, said Emily Smith-Greenaway, co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Sociology and Space Studies at the University of Southern California.
“People are facing these losses in a more isolated and economically precarious year for so many families,” Smith-Greenaway told Al Jazeera.
The study also found that black children are disproportionately affected – although they make up only 14% of children in the United States, they represent 20% of those who have lost a parent to COVID-19.
“ I can still hear him tell me to save, save and save ”
As the United States grappled with the early days of the coronavirus crisis, former President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed its severity, incorrectly claiming that the virus does not affect “no one young.”
But that was not Laura Guerra’s experience. Two days after celebrating her daughter Emilia’s first birthday, she watched from behind a glass plate her 33-year-old husband, Rodrigo, take his last breath on Christmas Eve.
“I remember hitting the window and saying no – I couldn’t believe this was happening. He was in good health a month ago, ”Guerra told Al Jazeera. “I stood there and watched until his heart stopped.
Guerra’s colleagues at a nonprofit banded together and donated 200 hours of their paid time off so she could stay home and care for her daughter for an extra month.
But now she’s back to work and relies on her mental health specialist salary to meet bills, pay daycare and pay off the mortgage on her home in Riverside, Calif.
“There is a lot of fear that comes automatically, a lot of the unknown,” said Guerra, 33. “I’m going to have to sell our house. I’ll have to sell our cars. I can no longer pay my mother-in-law to watch my daughter. I have to work full time. “
Costs for a baby in a daycare center are on average $ 1,230 per month in the United States, or nearly $ 15,000 per year, according to a 2018 analysis from the nonprofit Center for American Progress.
In no state in the United States has this reached the level considered “affordable” by federal standards: no more than seven percent of average annual household income.
Guerra’s daughter now receives a Social Security death benefit of $ 1,700 per month, she said, and the family can also claim workers’ compensation if they can prove that Rodrigo, who was an essential worker from an engineering company, contracted COVID-19 on the job.
But that’s still not enough to make up for the financial blow dealt by Rodrigo’s death. His wife and daughter also lost his monthly veteran’s disability benefit, which he was entitled to after serving in the US Marine Corps in Iraq and being injured by a roadside bomb in 2007.
When Rodrigo died, Guerra says, benefits ceased – and the government asked her to repay the check he sent for the month of December, which she had already used to pay off the mortgage. The money was then returned to him.
The couple used to book Saturday mornings to discuss their savings goals over coffee. Guerra is now grappling with a new reality, including planning for Emilia and her future alone.
“Now it’s like I have to do it myself. I can still hear him tell me to save and save and save, ”Guerra said. “I’m trying to be smart about paying off our house and not having debt.”
“ You don’t expect to become a widow with young children ”
Families who have lost a parent to COVID-19 have seen dramatic changes in their lifestyle – as well as in their financial stability.
Pamela Addison’s husband, 44, Martin, died of COVID-19 on April 29, 2020. He was a respiratory therapist in a New Jersey hospital and father of a two-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son. . .
“You don’t expect to become a widow, especially with young children. We had just had another baby and now it’s all over me, ”Addison, 37, told Al Jazeera.
But as she cries, Addison, an elementary school teacher, has also had to rework her life as a single mother of two.
All of her paycheck goes to pay the daycare and her mortgage, she says, and she relies on the savings to pay the other bills. She plans to work longer, retire later, and put aside her own goal of going back to school.
“It’s kind of like your dreams are set aside and you’re just trying to focus on survival and figuring out how to make sure you don’t lose your home,” Addison said. “It’s about making sure my kids don’t miss something because I can’t afford it, because it’s just me.”
“ Our lives cannot get back to normal ”
After Martin’s death, Addison received a letter from another young COVID-19 widow. This shared experience of pain helped her cope, she said, and inspired her to create a Facebook page called Young Widows and Widowers of COVID-19 to provide the same comfort to others. It now has over 500 members, who use it as a safe space to talk, evacuate and share information about available resources.
But other than this type of informal network, there is currently no federal tracking of children who have lost their parents to COVID-19, Smith-Greenaway said.
This contrasts with other disasters, such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which 3,000 children lost a parent and were tracked and provided with resources such as victim compensation, scholarships and assistance. navigation of the advantages offered to them.
This is why Smith-Greenaway advocates the creation of something akin to the 9/11 Commission to “direct a particular branch of the federal government or a particular agency to be in charge of identifying these children and providing them with support. She said.
“We need to make the administrative burden virtually zero so that it is very easy for people to get these funds quickly and immediately,” added Smith-Greenaway.
As the US economy begins to fully reopen this summer, these families also want to remind people that there is no going back to normal.
“I heard someone say COVID was going to be like a bad memory, but for a lot of us it’s a moment that changed our lives forever,” Addison said. “Our lives cannot go back to normal, because normal is when we had our husbands and wives, when my children had their father. We hate to hear that word.