A college degree can make a big difference.
About 13 million more Americans were back at workplaces in August than in May as fewer education, manufacturing and transportation employees said they were working from home because of the pandemic. That leaves an even wider gap between those who can shelter from the coronavirus and those who are required to be physically present at work as lockdowns are lifted, according to data released Sept. 4 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the quarter of American employees still working at home because of the pandemic, a majority were in jobs such as computer science, legal and finance, the data showed. Asian workers were the most likely group to be telecommuting while Hispanic workers were the least likely.
“It’s clear in the data that higher-skilled, higher paid occupations are still working from home in large numbers,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, a jobs listing website. “Some of the management occupations are 50% or higher and you get down to the service occupations and you’re talking single digits.”
Ozimek said he considers the large number of people staying out of offices to be a positive because it reduces crowding and potential virus exposure. The disease has sickened more than 6 million people in the U.S. and killed about 187,000.
The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted inequities in the workforce, allowing higher-paid, more educated people — often white or Asian — to isolate more easily than those who hold lower-paying jobs in industries such as retail and manufacturing that require close contact with others. Data has consistently shown Black Americans are twice as likely to die from the virus as white Americans.
Education also figures into where people can do their jobs, which also explains some of the disparities. For workers with a high school degree or less, about 12% were working from home in August. For those with at least some college, 44% were telecommuting, while more than half of employees with advanced degrees were remote, the BLS data showed. Asian and white workers are more likely to have a college education than Black or Hispanic workers, according to the BLS.