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CSEM researchers included in crucial grant to study pandemic’s economic effects

By John Railey
CSEM Writer

On June 11, Winston-Salem State University announced a grant of $1 million from the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill to combat COVID-19, part of six $1 million awards going to the UNC System’s six historically minority-serving institutions. WSSU said in a press release that it will “use its funding to build on a current NIH-funded pilot study that explores the feasibility of training HBCU students as community health workers to deliver evidence-based interventions to address chronic disease.” Researchers will look at the community’s response to the pandemic, as well as how it might impact university enrollment.

CSEM Research Fellows will play an important role, building on their ongoing research agendas in ways that intersect with this new grant. Professor Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi will survey the Hispanic and African American communities to better understand the long-term impact on university enrollments and the probability of ongoing social and economic mobility in these communities. Another study will explore to what extent poverty, disability and minority status relate to COVID-related disparities for vulnerable minority populations in the Piedmont Triad area. Tammara Thomas, Keisha Rogers, and Felicia Simpson will lead that study.

Thomas and Rogers are 2019-2020 CSEM Fellows who are currently using their CSEM grant to investigate the hurdles to economic mobility for African American women with physical and mental health disabilities in Forsyth County. Madjd-Sadjadi, a 2017-18 CSEM research fellow, serves as the center’s chief regional economist.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on minority communities due to grave disparities in healthcare access and economic mobility,” WSSU Chancellor Elwood L. Robinson noted recently. “This grant will allow us to do critical work to not only help understand the myriad impacts these disparities have on people of color, but also to better prepare our graduates to address those disparities.”
Madjd-Sadjadi added, “Nobody cares until there is a crisis. This is a perfect time to study all this, and to shed some long-lasting light on these issues.”

With the board of governor’s grant, Madjd-Sadjadi will contract with Professor Enrico Marcelli of San Diego State University to help lead the research. Marcelli is an experienced demographer of surveys of vulnerable populations in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The research team, including students, will work with local groups to FIRST gain trust among area African American and Hispanic populations. The team will explore, among other issues, whether the Census data is reflective of these populations, Madjd-Sadjadi said. “You can only do this through a household survey of what is happening on the ground.”

The research, Madjd-Sadjadi wrote in his proposal for the grant, “is critical in understanding the long-term impact on university enrollments as well as the probability of ongoing social and economic mobility in these communities … we will be gathering key demographic, socioeconomic, and labor market information from these populations, allowing us to generate a rich source of data that will not only help inform us in the current period but will serve as a rich dataset that can be used for future research in conjunction with 2020 Census data as it comes out over the next few years.”

The grant mandates that the funds be spent by Dec. 30. Madjd-Sadjadi welcomes that deadline, realizing the most accurate pandemic data must be captured as rapidly as possible.