How The Pandemic Has Changed NJ Forever

Commentary By: Morgan Reitzel, Follow South Jersey Intern

It’s no secret that COVID-19 put a strain on poverty all across the world with loss of loved ones, income, and sanity. People were itching to get back to their old lives after the long break of closing their doors and being isolated from the people around them. 

Despite doors starting to open in 2021, the world was still damaged, especially New Jersey. In 2021, poverty was on the up climb and even though it has started to decrease, some may never be able to come back from the harmful pandemic. 

A single mother of two from Union County, N.J. supports her family as a hairdresser. When her salon closed down, she became unemployed and struggled to feed her family, forcing her to file for unemployment. Fast forward to 2023, even though she is back working in her salon she claims that, “I lost a lot of clients because they started to do their own hair. People didn’t really need to come to the salon anymore with millions of people posting youtube videos on how to color and cut their own hair.” 

According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, during 2021, the state’s median income has dropped by 1.7% and the poverty rate has increased by 1.1 making it for a total of 10.2% which is the highest in 6 years. To clarify, it has been recorded that 132,000 New Jerseyans live below the poverty line, topping the highest number ever (930,000) since 2015. 

Despite COVID-19 no longer being seen as a virtual threat to humanity because of the vaccinations and other uses of medicine, the pandemic still has a longing effect on citizens mental and emotional health. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new complications for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. 

A poll was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in spring 2020 and 45% of adults in the United States have reported that their mental health has decreased due to the pandemic. Moreover, a lot of the stress has to do with losing a loved one, job lost, anxiety, and being isolated. Even Though residents of New Jersey and around the country have been provided stimulus checks, it still could not be enough to relieve financial concerns. Also, therapists have struggled to reach virtual groups due to the restrictions and cost of therapy. 

An older gentleman who was a teacher for over 30 years in South Jersey recalls how he struggled with mental health issues all of his life, but it has never been so awful until the pandemic hit in 2020. Despite the fact that the man is going to therapy and trying to improve his health, he is still unable to return to his normal life due to the pandemic happening over three years ago. 

He describes how it was difficult to learn how to teach remotely, allow students into his home over a screen, and grade papers on a computer. Since he describes himself as old school, he believes that he was not young enough to learn how to change his way of teaching which caused him stress and a feeling as though he was failing his students. 

When the media made the pandemic seem worse than what it really was, the gentleman was afraid to leave his house with or without a mask because he had a pre-existing condition and how old he was. Nonetheless, when schools started to open again, he was not emotionally able to go back and was forced to let go of a lot of opportunities. 

“I can’t even go out with my friends to dinner anymore or even buy a soda from the gas station because of how much of a financial hole I am in. It’s hard because I am so depressed and have so much anxiety because I am in poverty, but I can not get out of poverty because I can not return to my job due to my mental conditions.” 

The gentleman expresses that he does have hope for the future that he can return to work soon as he works with his therapist tirelessly to achieve his goal. 

“Without my hope, I would have nothing.”

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