Frontline workers also vary but come disproportionately from socio-economically disadvantaged groups compared to the overall workforce (see Panel A in Table 1) and receive lower wages on average (Panel A in Table 2). Frontline workers include (but are not limited to) health care workers, protective service workers (police and EMS), cashiers in grocery and general merchandise stores, production and food processing workers, janitors and maintenance workers, agricultural workers, and truck drivers. Such workers constitute 43% of all workers. While women are overrepresented in a number of specific frontline occupations, the average female share of frontline workers (39%) is lower than for essential workers as a whole. Frontline workers are on average less well educated than all workers, with a higher share comprised of high school dropouts and a lower share having a college degree or higher. They also have a considerably higher share of Hispanics and a somewhat higher share of Blacks. Immigrants are also disproportionately represented. Average wages of frontline workers ($22.76) are lower than those of all workers and essential workers. A higher share of frontline workers earns low wages (in the bottom quartile) and a smaller share earns high wages (in the top quartile).
As would be expected, health care workers comprise an important share—20% of frontline workers (see Panel B in Tables 1 and 2). Heath care workers include two major occupational categories: (i) healthcare practitioners and technical occupations and (ii) health care support. Practitioners and technical occupations, including doctors, registered nurses and pharmacists (among others), constitute the bulk of health care workers (69%). They are a relatively highly educated, high paying group. While doctors are still a majority male occupation, overall women comprise a majority of health care practitioners (75%). Health support workers, such as nursing assistants and home health aides, constitute the remainder of health care workers. They are an even more heavily female group (86%). In contrast to health care practitioners, they are a relatively less well educated and low wage group. Additionally, this group is majority non-white (55%, including 25% Black and 20% Hispanic), immigrants are more heavily represented, and a substantial share are single mothers (23% compared to 8% of frontline workers and all workers), suggesting they may face greater childcare burdens.
Sales and related occupations in essential industries also constitute a large share of frontline workers, 15%. Women constitute a little under half of all workers in this occupation group, with a quarter of workers employed in predominantly female occupations. Overall, the average wage is slightly below that for all workers and an above average share earn wages in the bottom quartile. Almost a quarter of workers in this group are cashiers at essential retailers such as grocery stories and general merchandise stores.Footnote 12
A number of heavily male, blue collar categories together constitute a large share of frontline occupations, including transportation and material moving occupations (14%), production occupations (10%), construction and extraction (10%), building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (6%), installation maintenance and repair (6%), as well as farming, fishing and forestry occupations (2%). Average wages for workers in these occupation groups are substantially below the average for all workers.
Protective service occupations constitute another crucial component of the frontline workforce, accounting for 4% of frontline workers. This is a primarily male category that earns about the same wage as the average for all workers.
If we take the estimates of closures and greatly reduced demand into account in measuring the frontline workforce (see Panel A in Tables 1 and 2), the estimated number of frontline workers is substantially reduced—to 34% of all workers. The percent female in the occupation declines slightly to 38% and average wages rise somewhat to $24.00. However, our basic conclusion that the frontline group is disproportionately comprised of less educated, disadvantaged minority (especially Hispanic), and immigrant workers, earning below average wages and with a substantial share of workers in the bottom quartile, remains unchanged. Considering shut down industries is of particular relevance for food preparation and serving occupations which potentially comprise a substantial share of frontline workers (10%), but the smallest share (2%) when taking shut down into account (see Panel C in Tables 1 and 2). While some were working and taking the risk of exposure to clients at the early stage of the pandemic, the majority were not working in these jobs. For both definitions this is a majority female and a very low wage occupation group on average.