Nearly All Jobs Lost During Pandemic Required On-Site Work

Nyla Clark, 3, accompanied by her mother, Chavonne Clark, sits in a baby stroller at a corner in New Orleans, hoping to get a few dollars from an occasional passerby on March 25, 2020. (David Grunfeld/The Advocate via AP)

(CN) — Millions of Americans lost their jobs as brick-and-mortar businesses needed to close amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Pew Research Center discovered that nearly all of the 2.9 million jobs lost between February and March were jobs that could not be replicated remotely.

While telework could help ease economic woes as unemployment rises, researchers also discovered vulnerable demographics that may not be protected, even with a telework stopgap.

In an analysis published Wednesday, researchers found that 90% of the jobs lost from February to March were jobs that could not be converted into a teleworking position.

Researchers gave examples such as waiters and barbers, who as of right now cannot work in many cities and states due to local ordinances meant to enforce social distancing practices.

But many of the 20 million Americans whose jobs have now evaporated in the year’s first quarter included those who worked in leisure, hospitality, logistics and construction — industries that cannot function via telework.

According to Pew’s data compiled in February, 40% of respondents indicated that their job could be done at home online, representing 63 million jobs, whereas 60% (95 million) of workers’ jobs required on-site work. For clarity, researchers noted that this 40% that could hypothetically become telework positions, rather than jobs being done remotely at the time.

The 40% average belied significant disparities between demographics, particularly regarding education. A significant majority (62%) of respondents with a college degree said that their respective jobs could be done remotely, whereas only 9% of those without a high school diploma could say the same. Only 22% of those with a high school diploma could shift to remote work, and 33% with some college experience could do so.

Women were noticeably more likely to be able to work remotely at 46%, compared to 35% of men. Asian respondents were the most likely to be able to work remotely amongst racial and ethnic demographics at 48%, compared to 44% for white respondents, 34% for black respondents and only 26% for Hispanic respondents.

Telework was even less likely for immigrants from every racial/ethnic background, but particularly for non-white immigrants. Overall, only 31% of foreign-born respondents said their jobs could be converted into telework.

Much like their U.S.-born counterparts, Asian respondents fared best in telework at 46%. Similarly, only 18% of foreign-born Hispanic workers said they could do their jobs remotely.

Synthesizing these metrics with subsequent job losses between February and March, the percentages in jobs lost trended demographically with remote and non-remote jobs. For example, foreign-born workers who would not be able to work remotely saw a 6% drop in employment, followed by Hispanic workers at 5%.

However, another noteworthy data point was a 4% job loss for black workers who could hypothetically work remotely, followed by Hispanic workers and high school graduates in the same category at 3%. All other demographics who could work remotely saw less than 1% decrease in employment. The data could not explain this phenomenon, as researchers also noted in their analysis.

Such an anomaly suggests that while telework may broadly insulate roughly 40% of working Americans while most in-person businesses remain closed, converting white collar jobs may only stem the tide of rising unemployment — especially for racial and ethnic minorities — rather than emerge as a sufficient and permanent solution.

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