Most Bay Area Essential Workers Are People of Color, Women, Immigrants

Most Bay Area Essential Workers Are People of Color, Women, Immigrants

People of color, women, and immigrants comprise a disproportionate share of  "essential workers" on the front lines of the Bay Area's COVID-19 public health emergency, an analysis by the Bay Area Equity Atlas, a project of the San Francisco FoundationPolicyLink, and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), finds.

Based on 2014-2018 American Community Survey data provided by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the report, A Profile of Frontline Workers in the Bay Area, estimates that there are 1.1 million essential workers in the region — comprising 28 percent of the local workforce — and that while people of color and immigrants comprise 58 percent and 37 percent of all Bay Area workers, they comprise 66 percent and 43 percent of essential workers. 

According to the analysis, Latinx individuals comprise 22 percent of all workers but 31 percent of frontline workers, while African Americans comprise 5 percent of all workers but are overrepresented in public transportation (23 percent); trucking, warehouse, and postal services (11 percent); and childcare and social services (10 percent). Women of color account for 27 percent of all workers but 33 percent of essential workers, while men of color account for 31 percent of all workers but 33 percent of essential workers. White women and men comprise 19 percent and 23 percent of all workers but only 16 percent and 18 percent of frontline workers. 

The study also found that essential workers are more likely to live in poverty, rent rather than own their homes, bear large housing cost burdens, have limited English, not have U.S. citizenship, care for children and/or seniors at home, and lack Internet access. Nearly 17 percent of all frontline workers live below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($48,000 for a family of four), compared with 13 percent of all workers, while frontline workers overall have median earnings of $57,989, compared with $70,917 for all workers. Frontline workers also are less likely to have a college degree and are more likely to lack health insurance.

To safeguard the health and economic security of essential workers, the study's authors call on employers to do more to provide safe working conditions, paid sick leave, and a living wage, and on state and local governments to expand paid sick leave, increase access to free COVID testing and affordable treatments, and cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments for workers impacted by COVID-19.

"Frontline workers are risking their health and safety to perform jobs like ringing up our groceries, cleaning hospital rooms, and driving buses," said PolicyLink senior associate Jamila Henderson. "These critical jobs integral to the Bay Area region are overwhelmingly filled by an immigrant or a person of color. More must be done to protect these workers and their families. Our policy makers must prioritize equitable recovery strategies to eliminate the racial and economic inequities that have become so glaring during this pandemic."