Loss of Many Kinds: Financial and Health Impacts of COVID-19 on American Muslims

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Petra Alsoofy

Original Article


While many Americans have experienced financial, health, and personal loss due to COVID-19, the negative impact of the pandemic has been great on Americans who are Muslim.


Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, stories of death and illness, job loss, and economic struggles have moved beyond the nightly news and into Americans’ daily experiences. And while almost all Americans have experienced financial, health, and personal losses due to COVID-19, the negative impacts of the pandemic have been particularly great on Americans who are Muslim. Unfortunately, some characteristics of the American Muslim community put this group at additional disadvantage when faced with the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

First, American Muslims are the most ethnically diverse and youngest faith community in the nation. ISPU research shows that 28% of American Muslims identify as Black or African American, and we know that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities all across the U.S. 

Second, a third of Muslim families report low income (with their households living at or below the poverty line), which is a larger percentage than any faith community in American measured by ISPU. Low-income people have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know economically disadvantaged Americans are more likely to be frontline workers, to lack access to proper healthcare, and to have no cash or credit cushion should they lose their job, magnifying the negative impacts of COVID-19 on poor families. 

It is within this context that the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) explored the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on American Muslims and the general public. Fielding a nationally representative survey from March 22, 2021 to April 8, 2021, we aimed to assess American Muslims’ lived experiences during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey also provided comparisons to the general population. 

The findings reflect experiences a year into the pandemic and under the following circumstances: another COVID-19 wave was hitting the country, vaccines were not yet widely available; young people were believed to be less severely impacted by the disease, and masks were still the main tool for protection against COVID. The full survey methodology is available here.

American Muslims Are Negatively Impacted Financially Due to COVID-19

A year into COVID-19, 27% of American Muslims reported losing their job due to COVID-19, compared to 19% of the general public. White Muslims (31%) were slightly more likely to have lost a job due to the pandemic than Black Muslims (22%). This impact was not mirrored in the general public, where Hispanic (32%) and Black Americans(23%) were more likely to have lost a job due to the COVID-19 pandemic than white Americans in the general public (14%).  

Another set of financial constraints reported in our survey were cuts to hours or pay due to the pandemic. According to our survey results, American Muslims and those in the general public experienced similar cuts to pay and hours (24% and 21%, respectively). Among American Muslims, Arab Muslims (27%) were more likely to report pay cuts than Asians (18%), Black (20%), or white Muslims (24%). 

Despite experiencing great financial losses and a higher rate of household poverty, American Muslims responding to our survey were as likely as the general public to say they are in good (44% of Muslims vs. 46% of the general public) or excellent (22% vs. 25%) financial standing. This finding is consistent with findings in previous studies, where Muslims are no less likely than any other group (with the exception of American Jews) to provide a rating of “good” or “excellent” financial standing, despite being significantly more likely to earn a low income. 

Hospitalization and Deaths Due to COVID-19

Just as the negative financial impacts of COVID-19 have been great for American Muslims, so has exposure to the disease itself, hospitalization, and death. One out of every four Muslims knows someone who has died of COVID, which is slightly higher than one of five in the general public (26% vs. 21%) who reported the same. And, nearly a third of Muslims know someone who has been hospitalized (29%), which is on par with the general public (27%).  

While Muslims saying they had tested positive for COVID-19 were on par with the general public (14% vs. 13%) at the time of our survey fielding in March 2021, a significantly higher percentage (11%) had been hospitalized for COVID, compared to the general public (6%).

Young Muslims (aged 18-29) are most likely (18%) to have tested positive for COVID compared to other age groups (11%). Our analysis suggests that young Muslims may have been more likely to test positive for COVID-19 not because of poor masking, but, in part, because of their living circumstances. While young Muslims are slightly less likely than Muslims ages 50 and older to always wear a mask (79% vs. 86%), still nearly 4 in 5 young Muslims certified they did so at the time. Young Muslims do stand apart from Muslims of other ages in their living arrangements with nearly half (48%) living with parents or extended family, compared with 9% of 30-49 year-olds and 4% of those 50 or more years old. 

When accounting for masking, age, and living arrangements, we find that age is not a significant predictor of having tested positive for COVID-19. While rates of masking seemingly have a limited impact, those who live with parents and extended family have greater odds of having tested positive for COVID-19 compared to those who live alone or with a significant other. Muslims who are 18-29 (12%) and 30-49 (14%) are also more likely than those 50+ (4%) to have been hospitalized at the time of our survey, which was fielded during a time when older Muslims were more likely to be vaccinated based on availability of the vaccine for older Americans and immunocompromised individuals. 

When we break down our results by racial groups, Arab Muslims (20%) and Black Muslims (16%) were more likely than Asian (11%) and white Muslims (9%) to have tested positive for COVID-19. Arab (37%) Muslims were also significantly more likely than Asian, Black and white Muslims (22%, 25%, and 20%, respectively) to know someone who had died of COVID-19.  

Muslim women are nearly twice as likely as Muslim men to have tested positive for COVID-19 (18% vs. 10%). They are also more likely than men to have known someone who died (32% vs 21%) and someone who has been hospitalized (36% vs. 23%). While twice as many Muslim women tested positive in our survey results, more Muslim men have been hospitalized themselves (14% vs. 8%). 

Considering that the general public is more likely than American Muslims to have reported a household member at severe risk of illness from COVID-19 (39% vs. 26%), it is notable that American Muslims are more likely to live in intergenerational households. While the general public (37%) is more likely than American Muslims (22%) to live with spouses/significant others, Muslims are more likely to live with spouses/significant others and children (29% vs. 22%), as well as parents/family (24% vs. 12%). Young Muslims aged 18-29 are more likely than older Muslims to live with parents/family (48% vs. 9% (30-49) and 4% (50+).  

Our takeaway from this analysis is that individuals and communities must continue to be vigilant and protect themselves and others as much as possible and follow public health guidelines, including related to mask wearing and vaccinations. Further research is needed to understand why so many young American Muslims have been impacted by COVID-19, beyond their peers in the general public. Researchers must also continue to investigate the social and mental health impacts of these different types of loss on communities and individuals, as well as the systemic factors that continue to put many Muslims at such disadvantage.   

¹ We ran a logistic regression model including testing positive for COVID-19 as the dependent variable and age, masking and living arrangements as independent variables.
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