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UCLA Labor Center study reveals pandemic’s effects on student workers

A UCLA study found that student workers are struggling with financial insecurity, lack of academic accommodations and lack of access to mental health services amid the pandemic. (Emily Dembinski/Illustrations director)

By Rebecca Charno and Sandra Ocampo

Nov. 29, 2020 7:19 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for student workers to balance their studies and their jobs, a UCLA study found.

Student workers experienced educational, financial and mental health hardships balancing their academic and work responsibilities, according to a September study from the Workers and Learners project at the UCLA Labor Center. The study polled more than 100 students who went to college in Los Angeles County in August about their experiences as student workers.

While half of study participants said they could handle work and school commitments before the pandemic, only a quarter of the participants said they could balance their responsibilities afterwards, the study found.

Janna Shadduck-Hernandez, a project director at the UCLA Labor Center and a co-author of the study, said student workers have long experienced challenges balancing their studies and work responsibilities, but the pandemic has exacerbated these challenges.

Only 17% of students said they felt all of their professors were accommodating toward students’ commitments to work while another 43% said none of their professors were accommodating, according to the study.

This lack of accommodation for student workers could negatively affect a student’s mental health, ability to graduate on time or ability to finance their education, the study found.

Student workers also reported they had limited access to mental health services. This is especially important because of the isolation and high anxiety that come along with a global pandemic and online classes, according to the study.

Less than half of the students used their university’s mental health services between April and September. Students who did not use the services said they saw little benefit in reaching out because of long wait times for appointments.

Counseling and Psychological Services should adjust its service hours to make additional appointment times to accommodate student workers’ schedules, Shadduck-Hernandez said.

“Colleges really need to be cognizant of the diverse working and learning identities, (so) that if we’re going to provide services, counselors and mental health services, that there have to be appointments on weekends, outside of the 9-to-5 time frame,” Shadduck-Hernandez said.

Brittany Montaño, a fourth-year history and labor studies student, said she hoped to discuss her stress as a student worker with a CAPS professional, but decided not to because of the complicated insurance registration process and conflicts with her schedule as a worker and learner.

“There’s a huge process to go through just to get an appointment.” Montaño said. “Sometimes it’s just tiring.”

The study also found that student workers struggled to finance their education, food and living expenses during the pandemic.

The majority of study participants have concerns about financing their education and around one-third said they were unable to pay their full rent or mortgage, according to the study. More than 40% of study participants also said they experienced challenges getting food.

Travis Bourdon, a second-year mathematics student and a worker at the UCLA Hill Top Shop, said he had to quarantine for two weeks when he moved into the university apartments during summer quarter and was unable to work.

“I still have to pay for my food, I still have to pay for housing and all that,” Bourdon said. “So that part definitely made it become a little more difficult.”

The study also found that 85% of student workers said they would like to be represented by a union in their workplaces, which could provide students with increased job and wage security.

Paul Zhamkochyan, a second-year history student and supervisor at the UCLA Hill Top Shop, said the COVID-19 pandemic has made student workers’ job security uncertain.

Zhamkochyan said although Associated Students UCLA offers him sick pay, his other non-UCLA sales job does not give him COVID-19 relief benefits or job stability.

America Sanchez, a third-year geography and labor studies student, said she had a difficult time creating a balance between her job at a taco shop and her schoolwork. Sanchez said she would come home from work at 2:30 p.m. and study until 1 a.m.

“I need to take the quiz now, I need to write my reflection for the week, you know, and it’s really hard,” Sanchez said. “It’s actually extremely difficult. And it’s just (an uneven) balance.”

Jazmine Vega, a fourth-year gender studies student, said she thinks professors could be more understanding during the pandemic.

“I feel like they could be … a lot more understanding with the situation,” Vega said. “Just because we’re at home doesn’t mean you have all the time in the world to do all of these readings, all these homework (assignments), essays (and) tests.”

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Rebecca Charno
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