Tag Archives: USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism

Working Women of Color in Crisis

On Monday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day, I received many empowering messages from my female friends from all walks of life.  But at this moment in history, the irony of the situation is that while women have made tremendous strides in the workplace with fulfilling careers and increasing pay in the past half-century, the pandemic has upended all that progress in just one year.  

Workforce participation of women has reached a level last seen in 1988.  The Gender Wage gap is estimated to widen even further from 81 cents on the dollar to 76 cents on the dollar.  

President Biden has called it a national emergency and on that same Monday, March 8 on International Women’s Day, he signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council within the White House to focus on uplifting the rights of women and address gender-based discrimination and violence among many other such goals.  But a telling addition to his broad gender policy initiative was its particular focus on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women by engaging with the White House coronavirus task force. 

Here are some sobering statistics from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.  Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs, and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. 

“We saw all of these economic cleavages that were underneath those gains laid bare for us,” says C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.,  president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Women fell out of the workforce at four times the rate of men and have a disproportionate number of job losses mainly because they are overrepresented in the hardest-hit sectors like the service sector, leisure, hospitality, education, and healthcare.  Black and Latino women in particular make up a little over a quarter of all jobs in the service sector.  If you couple this with the lower wages, pay inequality, fewer benefits in those jobs, it has been economically devastating for the women in this country.  

We were already dealing with a broken child care infrastructure and the pandemic brought this into focus for many American families.  School closures had a disproportionate effect on women as well.  In August 2020, when schools did not reopen, 860,000 women exited the workplace because they had to make the tough choice between their families and their jobs. 

Many of these women according to Dr. Mason are the primary breadwinners in their family and make less than 40k a year but still had to make this desperate choice because their children were failing virtual school.

Not surprisingly,  mothers are also doing a disproportionate share of pandemic parenting, regardless of employment. This raises the question, why are mothers taking on so much more of the parenting responsibilities during this pandemic, even when they have a partner who could share the duties? And especially when those partners see the devastating effect it is having on the mothers, both emotionally and economically. 

“This is because of the gendered structures of paid work that existed long before the pandemic” according to Dr. Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University Bloomington. This division of unpaid labor that women in families have always done has been starkly laid bare during this pandemic.  Women are in crisis. They are tired, depressed, and scared.

Many of the work-from-home mothers described having little choice but to sacrifice their paid work for their families during the pandemic because they were the only parent able to work from home or they earned substantially less than their male partners or because their children demanded more of their attention at home.  This leads to a combination of frustration, resentment, and then guilt – all taking a toll on their wellbeing and having an adverse effect on all aspects of their family’s life. 

More than a quarter of mothers report more verbal or physical fights with their partners or spouses.  30% say they are yelling more at their kids.  Another third says they are more frustrated with their children. Mothers also feel tremendous guilt at the amount of screen time their children are exposed to, because of virtual school and for entertainment. 

Dr. Calarco’s research shows that the pandemic is having serious consequences for mothers’ paid work, relationships, and wellbeing. She says these inequalities exposed by the pandemic reflect the gendered inequalities in our workplace and are “not just the function of men not stepping up to do their part”.  They are a function of failed policies, of the lack of affordable childcare, and lack of maternity leave.  This forced women into lower-paid jobs and part-time work even before the pandemic and now leave them feeling like “they have no choice but to sacrifice their own careers and wellbeing for their husband’s higher earning jobs.” 

When the recovery begins, it is very important to create economic policies that support this sector that was hardest hit – women and especially women of color and lower-wage workers. Some of the policies that could help women recover their place in the workplace include a minimum wage increase, especially for women of color.  If the Federal government cannot pass this legislation, follow the lead of many states and cities that have done so.  Healthcare, childcare support, and paid leave investments are also critical policies that need to be legislated.  Education and job training opportunities for women coming back to work after the pandemic is also critical.  And most importantly, we need vaccines in the arms of all Americans so that we can safely open schools and daycares and get women back to work.  

Corporate America should open back-to-work programs and reduce barriers for women to return to work. Paid leave and childcare facilities could increase flexibility that frankly, most employees with families want.   In many cases, the executives who are women and mothers with children at home and are saying to Maria Aspan, senior writer at Fortune,  “I am not just worrying about this for my employees, I am living this.”

There is a genuine desire to work on these issues, but, says Ms. Aspan, we have to wait to see if there is “any action behind the rhetoric”. 

This is a unifying time for all women, of all socioeconomic levels, that have been hit hard by this pandemic. We need to hold both the government and the private sector accountable.  It is time for all of us to band together to advocate for policies that will help all women thrive emotionally and economically.  And we will take our partners with us into this more equitable future.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality, and public education.

Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas

A billboard promising a taste of India looms across American interstate I-40. The new Route 66, I-40 is the spine of the Sikh trucking world. Every 100-200 miles you will find a Punjabi dhaba serving heart-healthy meals to diabetes-prone Punjabi truckers. 

Tucked into truck stops with names like Jay Bros (in Overton, NE.) and Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn (in Burns, WY.), the ubiquitous dhaba serves the needs of the increasing numbers of Punjabi truckers driving down I-80.

Raja Sekhon

Raja Sekhon, an ex-Indian Air Force officer who drives his truck through Canada and the US doesn’t stop at them. When he embarks on his 5-day journey, carrying fresh produce across US and Canada, he packs his own food. 

“From home I bring 4 spelt flour rotis (flatbread), daal (lentil soup), saag (spinach curry) and dahi (plain probiotic yogurt). That’s my diet on the road,” says Sekhon, a graduate of National Defense Academy, (NDA) India’s Westpoint. 

After having flown Air Force fighter jets and other professional jobs, he started driving a truck after retirement at the age of 61.

“Every day on the road I eat a banana, apple, date, fig, and prunes along with a cup of black coffee with haldi (turmeric),” says Sekhon who includes ginger and vitamins as part of his daily diet. Maintaining a healthy glycemic index is key.  

Of the 1.5 million truck drivers on US highways, says the Punjab Truck Association, about 150,000 Punjabis work in the trucking industry. Increasingly, Punjabi drivers are filling the depleting ranks of truck drivers many of whom are leaving due to health problems.

 A pilot study on health and safety for truckers published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that commercial truck drivers have a 50% higher risk of developing diabetes compared to the general population and that  87% of truck drivers have hypertension or prehypertension.

As a double whammy, South Asians like Sekhon have a four to fivefold higher risk for Type 2 diabetes compared to other Asian migrant groups. In a study on the dietary patterns and diabetes prevention strategies for South Asians in Western countries, Dr. Sherly Parackal from the University of Otago states that “Dietary patterns have been attributed as an important independent modifiable risk factor.” 

On an average road trip of ten days, food carried from home by a truck driver will last a few days before it spoils. Most long haul drivers will stop on the road at dhabas to refill their boxes for the rest of the trip. They heat the food on the camping stove that accompanies each trucking duo and make a cuppa chai to go with it.

Balvinder Singh Saini operates Punjabi Dhaba food truck with his wife, Mansi Tiwari, and a small staff of relatives in Bakersfield, California. Saini, 44, was once a truck driver himself, but health problems forced him to find another way to support his family.

“I make sure the food served to truckers is heart-healthy. The oil we use is cold press, the vegetables are non-GMO and organic, the flatbreads whole wheat, and the food portable. At times they pick up forty flatbreads at the start of their journey,” says Saini.

Even on the limited COVID menu, Saini makes sure that a good serving of vegetables is available: Shahi Matar Paneer (peas & cheese), Chole Masala (garbanzo beans), Aloo Gajar Matar Sabzi (potato, carrots & peas), Daal Makhani (pulses), with hand-rolled whole wheat bread Tawa Roti.

“Most Punjabi drivers are vegetarian on the road,” says Gurjeet, who drives a truck with her husband. “It is harder to find vegetarian food on the road. We find long lines of truckers at Subway ordering the vegetarian sandwich.”

In her study, Dr. Parackal associated “animal protein”, “fried snacks, sweets, and high-fat dairy” with greater insulin resistance and lower HDL cholesterol. A “mixed” dietary pattern was associated with obesity and hypertension and a “western” dietary pattern was linked to overall risk for Metabolic Syndrome. Another observation showed a “70% increase in the odds of diabetes per standard deviation in grams of protein intake.” 

Parackal recommends diabetes prevention strategies such as “Registered dietitian-directed wellness programs that include education, support, and cooperation of truck-stop restaurants are critical to reduce obesity and risk of disease in this population.”

Heart health coach Anita Sathe at the South Asian Heart Institute which guides South Asians in the management of their heart risk, suggests “A plate that is half full of vegetables, a quarter full with grains and a quarter with protein.”

At the Punjabi Dhaba off I-5 in Bakersfield, California, tables have been set up outside and masked clients are seated at a distance of six feet apart. There is ample parking space for truckers to pull in. Twelve dollars will buy four whole wheat rotis, daal (lentil soup dressed with a tadka of ginger, garlic, caramelized onions, and fire-roasted tomatoes) and, for the meat-eater, a treat of lean goat meat curry. Creamy steaming chai is a possibility. 

Balvinder Singh Saini knows that truckers are required to take a break before they complete 8 hours of driving and must stop driving after clocking 11 hours. The truck’s log system records and reports the time spent on the road. His dhaba is perfect for that thirty minute stop.

As the pandemic unfolded earlier this year, truckers have soldiered on through closed rest stops and food chains to deliver essential goods. Balvinder Singh and the Punjabi Dhaba have kept the wheels turning come rain, sunshine, or pandemic, plying truckers with heart-healthy fare. 

The dhaba feels like a piece of home. It has Punjabi music and Punjabi movies on the wall-hung TVs. The ladies in the kitchen, like aunts back in Punjab, wear Indian salwar trousers and kameez shirts and share family gossip while they hand-roll rotis. Balvinder Singh Saini himself stops and chats beside the outdoor tables with tales of his own, watching indulgently while his customers devour their meals.

“It is not just the body of the trucker, it is the spirit that gets nourished at these rustic eateries,” says Balvinder Singh Saini.

Dhabas on US Highways

  • Punjabi Dhaba 2546 S Union Ave Bakersfield, CA 93307
  • Punjabi Truck Stop (I-40, exit 26) -11561 N 1900 Rd, Sayre, OK 73662. (580) 928-2500
  • Panjabi Dhaba Restaurant & Vega Truck Stop 3650, I-40, Vega, TX 79092
  • Punjabi Dhaba 48243 Memorial Dr, Newberry Springs, CA 92365
  • Taste of India 2405 NM-469, San Jon, NM 88434
  • Dillon Truck Stop, San Jon, NM (I-40, exit 356) 
  • Punjabi Dhaba 2650 N Roundup Ave, Kingman, AZ 86401
  • Punjabi Dhaba 7311 Hwy 104 N, Cedar Grove, TN 38321
  • Tandoori Indian Restaurant 12501 Valley View Rd, Shawnee, OK 74804
  • Pilot Truck Stop, southside of Indy (I-495, exit 4) 
  • Spiceland Truck Plaza, New Castle, IN (I-70, exit 123)
  • Spicy BiteTA Truck Stop, Milan, NM (I-40, exit 79) 1203-1299 Motel Dr, Milan, NM 87021
  • Demming Truck Plaza, Demming, NM (I-10, exit 81) 
  • Punjabi Dhaba 7800 Batavia Rd, Dixon, CA 95620
  • Speed Way Cafe I-80 exit, 4, Wendover, UT 84083
  • Punjabi Dhaba 500 A Truck Inn Way, Fernley, NV 89408
  • Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India Rd 444, Overton, NE 68863
  • Akal Travel Center 168 Hunt Rd, Laramie, WY 82070
  • Akal Travel Center Exit 360 off I80 Nebraska
  • Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn Indian & American Restaurant 4850 I-80 Service Rd, Burns, WY 82053-9808. +1 307-547-3355
  • Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India.

Read other articles in this series:

Road Warrior

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.


Punjabi Truckers! Tell Us Your Health Concerns

Satsriakal ji,

Life on the road is tough. In order to maintain your job you have to maintain your health. Sitting for long periods of time and eating food available on the road can lead to health concerns.Tell us what health concerns you have as a truck driver or as a family member of a truck driver. Your story can save many lives and save your life. Please call me on Whatsapp. We want to hear your story.

By sharing your story with us, we can help each other. We can learn about new treatments and studies. 

 Main ik Punjabi patarkar haan jehrdi ki India Currents magazine vaaste likhdi haan. MaIn kahaniyan di ik lari(लड़ी) te kamm kar rahi haan. jehri ki Punjabi truck chalkan di sakhat mehnat atte(and) ajj de zamane vitch ohna te aaun walian musibatan te channanan paundi hei.     

Sarak(road) te lamba samaan (time) bitande hoe kehrian cheezan uhna nun sehatmand rakhan de layi aasaan te mushkail hann. main jannan chaundi haan ki sehat sambandhi kehrian chunautiyan da tuhanun saamna karna penda hei atte( and) uhna da tussin ki hall  chahnde ho.

Kirpa kar ke mainu is WhatsApp no (1408 9056090) te message karo.

Main eh vi jannana chaundi haan ki tuhade mutabik truck chalkan nuun sarak te jaande ya na jaande  hoe aapni sehat nun theek rakhan de layi kehri jankari te sadhnan di zarurat hei.

A lot of new medical research has been done on South Asians by hospitals like Stanford and El Camino Hospital in California.This research may help the South Asian community. We can share the latest research and technology with you. Together we can improve our health. 

As a truck driver you drive a long, long, lonely road and may have no time to research what new treatments or opportunities are available to you.

Looking forward to your message!

Ritu Marwah 

Read articles in this series:

Road Warrior

Doctors Open Doors To Sick Punjabi Truckers

Punjabi Truckers Find A Warm Welcome At US Highway Dhabas


Ritu Marwah wrote this series while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship.