This study uses 2018 national survey data to characterize the proportion of essential workers in the US overall and living in economically vulnerable households, defined as income below $40 000 or at least 1 member uninsured or older than age 65.
The authors analyzed nationally representative data from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS). Their sample included 3,214,539 unique individuals.
Main findings included:
- 40% of the US adult population were essential workers.
- Of essential workers, 46% were female, 14% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 11% were uninsured, and 8% were 65 years or older
- 8 of the 21 industry categories from the ACS accounted for 73% of essential workers
- Health care accounted for a larger proportion (15%) of essential workers than any other industry: 65% of health care workers held essential jobs
- Black individuals were overrepresented in several essential industries, notably transportation (23%), public administration (18%), and health care (18%)
- An estimated 51% of households included an essential worker
- 25% of essential workers were estimated to have low household income, 18% to live in a household with at least 1 uninsured person, and 18% to live with someone 65 years or older
- 48% of essential workers lived in a household with at least 1 risk and 13% of essential workers lived in high-risk households
Findings suggest a need for economic analyses of the costs and benefits of approaches such as stimulus payments, short-term health care coverage, and prioritized testing for essential workers and their familes.