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Charting structural inequities: How lowest-paid, least-secure jobs also tend to have highest risk for COVID-19

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/3/2020 By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Jonathon Berlin, Chicago Tribune
a person standing in front of a store: Workers restock shelves at Mariano's in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2020. © Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Workers restock shelves at Mariano's in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood amid the coronavirus pandemic on March 19, 2020.

Before the death of George Floyd ignited a powder keg of tensions over social inequities in the U.S., COVID-19 had already laid them bare.

Blacks and Latinos, as well as lower-income people, are not only more likely to die from the disease than whites, but also are disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout because of the kinds of jobs they tend to hold.

In a new report, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute quantifies the “significant structural inequities” COVID-19 has revealed about Illinois’ economy.

Workers who hold the essential jobs that have kept society running during the pandemic, as well as nonessential workers like hair stylists and restaurant workers who are most at risk of virus exposure because of the face-to-face nature of their work, grapple with greater job and financial insecurity than their higher-paid counterparts who are able to work from home, the report said.

The report lists long-term policy recommendations to support workers at risk of being left behind in the economic recovery, including statewide paid sick leave and a state-run public health insurance option, in hopes they return to a normal that is better than the one they had before.

Here are some findings from the report.

Large share of essential workers live downstate

About half of the state’s workforce is employed in sectors considered essential during the pandemic, including nurses, police officers, manufacturing and delivery drivers, and a disproportionate share lives downstate. Face-to-face workers, who hold jobs like restaurant servers and hair stylists, make up a quarter of the workforce and are disproportionately made up of blacks and Latinos. Remote workers are more likely to be white and living in Chicago.

Remote workers have more financial security ...

Remote workers have far higher earnings than essential or face-to-face workers, even when education is taken into account. People in face-to-face occupations are the lowest paid.

... and more job security, too

Unemployment among face-to-face workers surged to 34% during the pandemic as stay-at-home orders urged people to avoid contact with others. Latinos and those with less education experienced the greatest job losses.

COVID-19 risk is higher for lower-paid, less-secure jobs

Low-paid face-to-face jobs and middle-class essential jobs are at highest risk of exposing workers to COVID-19. Many of those same face-to-face workers carry the additional risk of losing employer-provided health insurance in the economic fallout of the pandemic.

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©2020 the Chicago Tribune

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