While office workplaces debate the future of hybrid work, with more than half of US adults fully vaccinated, a new analysis recalls that access to remote work during the pandemic was a privilege, not the norm, for the fortunate of some.
According to a report by the left-wing Economic Policy Institute that analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2020 to April this year, only one in five U.S. workers can work remotely due to the pandemic.
Of course, teleworking opportunities were not created equally after the COVID-19 outbreak – and disparities that fall along demographic dimensions such as education and race have persisted throughout the pandemic.
About six in ten workers with at least a bachelor's degree were able to work remotely at the start of the pandemic, compared with just 12% of workers with a high school degree or less. While the overall proportion of teleworkers decreased in the following months, a significant gap remains between the two groups (34% and 5% respectively).
"It's important to consider who has been most protected from the economic and health devastation of the pandemic recession."
Low-wage workers, who often also have lower levels of education, were hit hard by job losses at the start of the public health crisis, EPI said. Ungraduate workers tend to work in jobs that are not conducive to remote working, the think tank added, meaning that "those who are able to stay or take up employment are forced to work in unsafe conditions" .
Workers of different races and ethnicities also had varying degrees of access to remote work during the pandemic, with 15% of Hispanic workers, 20% of black workers, 26% of white workers, and 39% of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders reporting working from home .
In fact, the analysis found that black and Hispanic workers were less likely to telework regardless of their level of education.
"Some of these differences can be directly linked to job losses within the Hispanic community, as research shows that a much lower proportion of Hispanic workers were able to work from home during the pandemic," EPI said. "A similar story can be told for black workers who, even before the COVID-19 illness, had a job where they could work from home much less often compared to white workers."
Colored workers are overrepresented in important occupations
Workers of color are overrepresented in key jobs that require commuting to work outside the home, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out, a contributing factor to racial and ethnic health disparities associated with COVID -19 can contribute.
Women also worked more often than men. Younger workers (ages 16 to 24) were the least likely to telework, and US citizens were more likely to work from home than non-citizens.
Previous studies have also shown that the majority of workers, particularly those with low and middle income and those with lower educational attainment, have job responsibilities that cannot be performed from home.
The wider effects of remote working on the economy and the labor market have yet to be determined, wrote Senior Economist at the Economic Policy Institute Elise Gould and research associate Jori Kandra.
However, they added, "It is important to remember who has been protected the most from the economic and health devastation of the pandemic recession – and underscores why policymakers now need to build an economy that now works for everyone, not only for those we know and can see ", and before the next catastrophe occurs."
As for those who have the privilege of working from home, according to the latest Morning Consult survey, nearly seven in ten current remote workers say they would feel comfortable returning to the office. Eight in ten current remote workers say they enjoy working remotely, and seven in ten say they are more productive when they work remotely.
About 20% of post-pandemic work in the US will be done remotely, estimates a report recently released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
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