Think everyone’s working from home as the novel coronavirus spreads? Think again, a new report argues.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about how much people are able to telework. It’s actually quite a small share of the workforce. … The vast majority of people can’t,” says Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
In a post on the think tank’s website Thursday, Shierholz and fellow economist Elise Gould highlighted data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as they made the case that the federal government needs to do more to help workers as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.
“Less than 30% of workers can work from home,” they wrote, “and the ability to work from home differs enormously by race and ethnicity.”
Black and Hispanic workers in the United States are “much less likely” to be able to work from home, Gould and Shierholz said.
Here’s the breakdown of the share of US workers who can telework, by race and ethnicity, according to BLS data from 2017-2018:
• 37% of Asian workers
• 29.9% of white workers
• 19.7% of black or African American workers
• 16.2% of Hispanic or Latino workers
• 31.4% of non-Hispanic or Latino workers
Why is there such a discrepancy?
“It just comes down to the fact that in the United States there’s still a lot of occupational segregation by race and ethnicity,” says Shierholz, who was the Department of Labor’s chief economist from 2014-2017.
For example, she said, there’s a large concentration of Hispanic workers in construction and a large concentration of black workers in service sector jobs.
The economists’ analysis notes that most low-wage workers can’t telework.
“Only 9.2% of workers in the lowest quartile of the wage distribution can telework, compared to 61.5% of workers in the highest quartile,” Gould and Shierholz wrote.
And the largest percentage of workers who can’t telework are in the leisure and hospitality industry.
Why is all of this important to keep in mind? Gould and Shierholz argue the data shows how much further the federal government needs to go in its efforts to support workers.
“A much higher share of people who can’t telework will lose their jobs in this recession than those who can,” Shierholz says.