Pandemic frontline occupations consist of disproportionately low socioeconomic status and racial minority workers. Documenting occupational health disparities is therefore crucial for understanding COVID-19-related health inequalities in the United States. This study uses Current Population Survey microdata to estimate occupational differences in sickness-related absences (SAs) from work in March through June 2020 and their contribution to educational, racial-ethnic, and nativity health disparities. We find that there has been an unprecedented rise in SAs concentrated in transportation, food-related, and personal care and service occupations. SA rates were 6 times higher in these occupations than in non-health-care professions. The greatest increases were in occupations that are unsuitable for remote work, require workers to work close to others, pay low wages, and rarely provide health insurance. Workers in these occupations are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, indigenous, and immigrants. Occupation contributes 41% of the total of Black/white differences and 54% of educational differences in SAs.
Bibliographical notePublished online: 31 Jan 2022.
- Occupational health
- Sickness absences
- Socioeconomic disparities
- Structural racism