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Coronavirus Highlights Stark Divides Between Those Who Can Work From Home And Those Who Can’t

The coronavirus outbreak has changed work for millions in the commonwealth, most of course for those who have lost their jobs. Hundreds of thousands have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks. One report suggests unemployment could hit 25%.

Many of those who are still working are doing so from home, fitting in Zoom calls between domestic and childcare duties. But there is a large segment of the workforce that doesn’t have the luxury of working from home.

Those working from home are typically already in a more economically secure position, with higher household incomes, higher levels of education and full time, salaried jobs. Among those with jobs and advanced degrees, 83% report working remotely, compared to only 35% of those with a high school degree or less.

(MassINC Polling Group)
(MassINC Polling Group)

Those who are not able to work remotely have either lost jobs, lost wages or are still going out to work amid the pandemic. Looking specifically at those working outside the home, they disproportionately come from demographics that are being hit hardest by the outbreak. Compounding the risk they are taking leaving the house, their financial position is far more precarious than those who are working from home.

Over the four waves of the MassINC/Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, 62% of residents reported being employed. That figure dropped over the course of the survey, from 65% in the first wave to 56% in the final fielding. A majority (58%) of those still working reporting doing so from home since the crisis began. But that leaves a significant minority of workers (42%) who are still working outside of the home.

(MassINC Polling Group)
(MassINC Polling Group)

We don’t know from the survey what work these employees are doing outside the home, but we know their demographics differ significantly from employees working from home. They are more likely to be male and younger. Two-thirds of them lack a college degree, the exact opposite of the working-from-home set. They are a little less likely to be white and more likely to be black or Latino — two racial groups being particularly hard hit by the virus.

They also have lower household incomes: 43% make less than $75,000 a year, compared to 27% among home workers. And that income is less secure. They are more likely to be working part-time, and two-thirds of them are paid hourly rather than receiving a salary.

In other words, if they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. Indeed, 40% of these workers report losing some portion of their pay. These economic differences add up. While 52% of home workers say they can hold out four months or more without financial hardship, only 34% of those working outside the home say the same.

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