December 8, 2020
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has upended the way many Californians work. As we described in the first post in this series, many workers have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and job losses have disproportionately affected women, younger workers, less educated workers, and Latino workers. Other workers have had to change the way they work, either by taking extra precautions in how they interact with customers and colleagues or by temporarily working from home instead of the office or job site. In this post, we take a closer look at this group: people whose jobs entail frequent person-to-person contact (frontline workers) and those who likely have been able to work from home (remote workers).
California’s frontline workers work in close proximity with customers and colleagues and therefore have greater exposure risk to the coronavirus through their work. The state’s remote workers, on the other hand, may be able to complete their job responsibilities from home and therefore face less exposure risk through their work. As shown in the figure below, 4.7 million workers work in frontline industries (25 percent of all workers) and 7.6 million workers likely can perform their work remotely (40 percent of all workers). The remaining workers—nearly 7 million (35 percent)—do not work in frontline industries but also likely cannot perform their work remotely. For example, these workers include administrative staff who do not work in frontline industries, landscape workers, truck drivers, gym staff, school cafeteria cooks, and construction workers. Some of these workers may be working in-person during the pandemic, but they are not included in our analysis as frontline workers.
How We Identify the State’s Frontline and Remote Workers.
California’s frontline workers work in close proximity with customers and colleagues and therefore have greater exposure risk to the coronavirus through their work than workers who interact with others less often. Frontline workers are people who work in the industries listed in the table above. Prior to the pandemic, statewide, about 4.7 million people (25 percent of the state’s workforce) worked in these industries. The figure below shows common jobs in these industries and the median annual salary for each job. The figure shows the number of workers in these jobs during 2019, before the pandemic began. As a result of the pandemic, it is plausible that there are fewer workers in some frontline industries—for instance, waiters who work in restaurants that have seen reduced business—and more workers in other industries—for instance, healthcare workers who have been hired to perform coronavirus testing or conduct lab testing. In the section below, we highlight key characteristics of California’s frontline workforce.
Somewhat More Women Than Men in Frontline Workforce, but Varies by Industry. Prior to the pandemic, 2.5 million women and 2.3 million men worked in frontline industries. As shown in the figure below, however, the share of women and men differ across frontline industries. For example, women make up more than 80 percent of childcare and family service workers but 25 percent of trucking, warehouse, and postal service workers.
Latino Workers Make Up Disproportionate Share of State’s Frontline Workforce. As shown in the figure below, while Latino workers make up only 38 percent of the state’s workforce, half of the state’s frontline workers are Latino. As we described in the first post of this series, Latino workers have experienced a disproportionately high share of recent job losses, in part because Latino workers make up a large share of the workforce in many frontline industries that have been hardest hit during the pandemic. Unlike Latino workers, other workers of color make up about the same share of the state’s frontline workforce as they do of the state’s overall workforce.
Earnings Very Low in Most Frontline Industries. As shown in the figure below, average earnings fall below $30,000 per year for workers in most of the state’s frontline industries. Public safety and corrections workers have the highest earnings among the state’s frontline workforce. Overall, the typical frontline workers earns about $10,000 per year less than the typical California worker.
California’s remote workers likely are able to complete their work requirements without being present at work and therefore may have less exposure risk to the coronavirus through work than frontline workers. Remote work jobs are those that do not require meeting with customers in-person or operating equipment. Statewide, about 7.6 million people (40 percent of the state’s workforce) work in these jobs. The figure below shows common remote jobs and the median annual salary for each job. In the section below, we highlight key characteristics of California’s remote workforce.
Women More Likely Than Men to Have Jobs That Can Be Done Remotely. Prior to the pandemic, 3.9 million women and 3.6 million men worked in jobs that likely could be done remotely. As shown in the figure below, this corresponds to 44 percent of all female workers and 35 percent of all male workers.
College-Educated Workers More Likely to Work Remote. As shown in the figure above, more than 60 percent of college-educated workers work in jobs that likely can be performed remotely. At the same time, very few workers with lower education levels work in jobs that likely can be done remotely: fewer than 10 percent of workers with no high school diploma work in jobs that can be done remotely.
Younger Workers Much Less Likely to Work Remote. As shown in the figure above, younger workers—those aged 16 to 24 years old—are much less likely to work remotely than workers in all other age groups.
Latino and Black Workers Least Likely to Have Jobs Than Can Be Done Remotely. As shown in the figure above, Latino and Black workers are less likely than other workers to have jobs that can be done remotely.