'Our lives are changed permanently.' New USC study finds return to normal is doubtful

In a new study, USC researchers quantify just how much the pandemic has permeated our lives. The research found that financial, physical and mental hardships are widespread among all communities.

Every day, people you come across often ask, "When will it be normal again?"

New research from the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research suggests nothing may ever be the same.

"It's been interesting hearing everybody talk about returning to normal. My impression looking at our data is that we can't return to normal. Our lives are changed permanently," said USC Sociologist and economic inequalities researcher Kyla Thomas, Ph.D.

ABC7 town hall | What we've learned 1 year into coronavirus pandemic
EMBED More News Videos

What we've learned and where we go from here



Throughout the lockdown, Thomas and her colleagues tracked the pandemic's effect on our bodies, our psyche and our future in their "Understanding America Survey."

"Up through March, 80% of the U.S. population has experienced some form of serious hardship," she said.

Hardships include high stress, job loss, food insecurity, moderate to severe anxiety and depression, COVID-based discrimination, missed housing payments and COVID deaths and infection.

Thomas said the pandemic exposed and exacerbated our nation's long standing racial and ethnic inequalities.

When asked, "Do you know someone who died from COVID in the past year?" About 30% of Blacks and Latinos responded yes.

"That's more than double the rates that we saw among, for example, non-Hispanic, white residents," Thomas said. "You're seeing in communities of color a disproportionate impact. Permanent loss."

On the flip side, those in the Asian American Pacific Islander communities were less likely to know someone impacted by COVID, but they experienced higher rates of another hardship.

"The population that's actually been the least likely to be infected with COVID or know somebody who died from COVID is actually the most likely to be targeted by others thinking they might have COVID," Thomas said.

While the study wasn't designed to find solutions to people's suffering, researchers did find relief efforts such as economic stimulus checks and unemployment benefits had a positive impact on how people felt about their situations.



"That kind of government help makes a difference," Thomas said. "And we can use more of it."

The survey found mental health fallout will plague Americans for years to come and it's an area where policymakers need to focus.

"The real goal here is to provide data that is actionable and that people can use to help address the suffering that we're seeing," Thomas said.

See the tracker below to find out how COVID-19 cases are trending in your county.

Having trouble viewing the graph above? Click here to view in a new window.
Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.