Jun 22, 2020 - Health

The front-line workers most at risk from coronavirus

Illustration of gloved hand holding briefcase
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

An estimated 25-30 million people are caught in the middle of the coronavirus economy — they’re unable to work from home but also face a high risk of severe infection.

Why it matters: The impossible choice between lives and livelihoods falls mainly to lower-wage workers in service industries.

By the numbers: According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published before the pandemic hit, slightly more than two-thirds of American workers cannot work virtually.

  • There are 38 million workers who are at risk of severe illness due to COVID because of underlying health conditions.
  • Another 12 million high-risk adults are not working, but live with someone who is.
  • That means roughly 25 to 30 million high risk workers cannot work virtually.
  • The number may be an under-estimate because pre-existing conditions are more prevalent among lower-income people, who are less likely to be able to work at home.

Between the lines: If you work for any number of public-facing small businesses — an auto body shop or a dry cleaner or a pizza place — your boss will need you back at work for the business to function, but interaction with customers will likely increase your risk of infection.

  • Many of these same workers also will rely on public transportation to get to work.

What’s next: The Trump administration is considering a back-to-work bonus, which could put more money in vulnerable workers’ pockets while also making them feel more pressure to return to work as soon as possible,

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