Guess Who's Working the Most Dangerous Jobs

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Three-quarters of Americans can't work from home. Many of those jobs involve physical labor, or customer-facing service, or other risk factors for contracting coronavirus, even with proper precautions. COVID-19 has made a lot of already grueling occupations more dangerous than ever — and the burden is falling disproportionately on exactly the demographics who can support it least.


Public health researchers at the University of Washington have just released a study breaking down high-hazard, low-reward jobs and who holds them during the pandemic. Positions as home health aides, teaching assistants, waitstaff, counter workers, and retail sales clerks are overwhelming held by women; some categories, like nursing assistants, are nearly 90 percent female. These jobs are also disproportionately held by people of color: essential, loudly applauded, but poorly compensated and protected.

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The research team classified these positions by whether the following applies to the job's duties:


  • Physical proximity to others
  • Dealings with external customers
  • Face-to-face discussions
  • Contact with others
  • Exposure to disease/infections
  • Work with a team or group
  • Dealings with physically aggressive people
  • Assisting/caring for others
  • Performing for/working directly with the public
  • Use of common or specialized safety equipment (gloves, masks, hazmat suits)

We already know that COVID is wreaking havoc on gender equality, that the pandemic overall is harder on women, and that racism compounds the overwhelming stress we already feel overall. Even being employed is hard on our mental health, compared to not having work. COVID is showing Americans where our society's vulnerabilities lie, which means now is as good a time as any to forge ahead on addressing them.