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A Stark Look at the COVID-19 Job Class Divide, One Year Later

Tempura / Getty Images
Tempura / Getty Images

While nearly all Americans have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in some way, when it comes to its effect on the job market and low- and high-wage earners, its impact has not been felt equally.

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Blue-Collar Workers Are More Likely To Have Lost Their Jobs

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in August 2020 found that 46% of low-income earners had trouble paying their bills since the pandemic started, with 32% saying it’s been hard for them to make rent or mortgage payments. But only about 20% or fewer middle-income adults had faced these same challenges. This is likely due to the disproportionate distribution of job loss among the different classes: Lower-income adults were more likely to have lost their jobs and were more likely to still be unemployed six months into the pandemic, the Pew survey found.

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A more recent study conducted in November 2020 by Joblist found that 66% of blue-collar workers had experienced a job loss since the start of the pandemic versus just 40% of white-collar workers. In addition, 82% of blue-collar workers had witnessed layoffs at their workplace versus just 70% of white-collar workers.

“The primary reason for this difference is that many blue-collar jobs have to be performed in person in a physical work environment, whereas many white-collar office jobs can be completed from home,” said Kevin Harrington, CEO at Joblist. “When businesses were interrupted at the onset of the pandemic, transitioning to remote work was simply not an option for many blue-collar workers, who were subsequently laid off. Meanwhile, many white-collar workers were able to shift to remote work with little to no change to their daily work online.”

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The industries most affected by job cuts also tend to be staffed with blue-collar workers.

“The pandemic has hit several industries especially hard, including leisure and hospitality, food service, travel and transportation, retail, construction and manufacturing,” Harrington said. “Reduced travel, retail and restaurant closures, businesses operating at reduced capacity, and the halting of non-essential activities have all contributed to major job losses in these industries, which disproportionately require in-person work.”

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Blue-Collar Workers Are More at Risk for Contracting COVID-19

Not only have blue-collar workers been more affected by job loss, but they have also been subject to more potential exposure to the coronavirus since much of their work is done in-person. As of November 2020, nearly half of white-collar workers (49.4%) were still working from home, while only 16.2% of blue-collar workers were, the Joblist survey found. The survey also found that 47.5% of blue-collar workers had been infected with the coronavirus versus 23% of white-collar workers.

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The Job Class Divide Is Wider Than Ever — How Can We Fix It?

All of these factors are indicative of a widening job class divide — blue-collar workers are more likely to lose jobs and to be exposed to the coronavirus, which can take them out of the workforce in some cases.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated the inequality gap, and governments and private companies have a lot of work to do in addressing this issue,” Harrington said. “Lowering the cost of childcare, prioritizing access to affordable housing and healthcare, improving educational and training opportunities, public job creation initiatives, investing in public transit and raising the minimum wage are only some of many actionable steps that are long overdue, and can help make progress towards closing the gap.”

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Last updated: March 10, 2021

This article originally appeared on A Stark Look at the COVID-19 Job Class Divide, One Year Later