Who is most at risk in the coronavirus crisis: 24 million of the lowest-income workers

By Beatrice Jin and Andrew McGill
Cashiers, nursing assistants, paramedics: These people are at highest risk of exposure to coronavirus — and make a median wage of less than $35,000 a year
| 03/21/2020 9:57 AM EDT |
This week, unemployment claims soared as state and federal officials restricted public gatherings and shuttered stores to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. Using wage data from the U.S. Department of Labor and working conditions surveys from O*NET, we analyzed those who are most vulnerable.
First, we looked at the bottom quarter of earners — people in jobs that pay less than $35,000 a year. Next, we narrowed that list to people who work at an arm's length or less from others during their regular shifts, according to workforce survey data.
This group, nearly 24 million people — or about 15 percent of the American workforce — is at the highest risk of suffering injury from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them are bartenders, paramedics, home health aides, janitors, drivers and more.
The chart below plots more than 600 jobs, arranging them by how much they pay and how much they involve human contact. We’ve highlighted the most-at-risk zone, using the criteria above. We’ve also shown a moderately-at-risk zone, which includes professions that pay the up to median wage and require contact equivalent to working in a shared office.
Here, we've charted jobs that pay up to $100,000, to get a better look at these workers.

Which American workers are most at risk?

Service sector jobs make up the bulk of this vulnerable population, led by cashiers, waitstaff and care aides. Cashiers alone hold more than 3.5 million jobs, more than registered nurses or school teachers.
And while other workers — including janitors and office clerks — make comparable salaries, they’re less likely to depend on constant direct human contact for their livelihoods, according to O*NET data.
Government data shows workers in this salary tier are also less likely to get the kinds of benefits that would help them weather disruptions in work. Only 51 percent of employees in the bottom quarter of pay nationally say they get paid sick leave; only 1 percent say they have remote-friendly jobs.
Here’s a breakdown of all most-at-risk jobs, ordered by total workers.

Low pay, high contact

Occupation Income No. employed
Waiters and Waitresses$21,7802,582,410
Personal Care Aides$24,0202,211,950
Nursing Assistants$28,5401,450,960
Cooks, Restaurant$26,5301,340,810
Teacher Assistants$26,9701,331,560
First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation and Serving Workers$32,450964,400
Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workers$29,000913,480
Home Health Aides$24,200797,670
Medical Assistants$33,610673,660
Childcare Workers$23,240564,630
Bus Drivers, School or Special Client$32,420504,150
Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers$22,270455,700
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education$29,780424,520
Pharmacy Technicians$32,700417,860
Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, and Coffee Shop$22,160416,950
Driver/Sales Workers$24,700414,860
Social and Human Service Assistants$33,750392,300
Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists$24,730377,210
Amusement and Recreation Attendants$22,260319,890
Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics$34,320257,210
Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs$25,980207,920
Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers$26,950156,440
Ushers, Lobby Attendants, and Ticket Takers$22,260133,970
Butchers and Meat Cutters$31,580133,670
Manicurists and Pedicurists$24,330110,170
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians$34,420106,680
Gaming Dealers$20,12092,530
Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers$27,54089,480
Crossing Guards$28,96079,880
Psychiatric Technicians$32,87071,360
Psychiatric Aides$29,18056,910
Skincare Specialists$31,29050,740
Physical Therapist Aides$26,24047,260
Baggage Porters and Bellhops$24,21042,350
Graders and Sorters, Agricultural Products$24,43038,210
Pharmacy Aides$26,45036,970
Funeral Attendants$26,40035,340
Transportation Attendants, Except Flight Attendants$26,76025,460
Fiberglass Laminators and Fabricators$34,50021,190
Gaming Cage Workers$27,49016,020
Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians$25,75015,380
Gaming and Sports Book Writers and Runners$24,43011,150
Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators$32,68010,230
Occupational Therapy Aides$28,1607,700

What’s more concerning, however, is how much the population of affected workers balloons when this analysis is expanded, even slightly, to moderately at risk jobs.
If we bump the pay ceiling to $48,000 — the median wage in the Department of Labor data — and include jobs that require moderate proximity to other people, we’re now looking at 69 million workers, more than 40 percent of the total American workforce.
This would include 4.4 million retail salespersons, which is the largest single job category in the country. Also added are dental assistants, who score a nearly chart-topping 99 on the people-proximity scale, and make around $38,660.
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March 22, 2020

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