Essential Workers

At a time when stay-at-home orders and strict social distancing measures have been put in place, essential workers are unable to stay at home. Here, we outline specific problems related to essential workers, policies currently in place to help mitigate them, and highlight areas that are still lacking.


Who are "Essential Workers"?

Essential workers include those individuals working in:

  • Healthcare

  • Law enforcement & emergency personnel

  • Critical retail (grocery stores/pharmacies)

  • Medical supply manufacturing

  • Delivery/warehousing

  • Food production & agriculture

  • Utility workers

  • Transit/transportation

  • Defense

  • And more (see the Department of Homeland Security memo)

There are approximately 49 million essential workers in the U.S. One in three jobs held by women has been designated essential.

Federal Policies






Workers in low-wage essential jobs often lack access to benefits like paid leave and health insurance, and many have reported that their employers aren’t providing sufficient protective equipment.

With little financial security, many low-wage essential workers feel compelled to keep working despite the increased risk of exposure for themselves and their family members. Essential workers deserve hazard pay. 

An estimated 6 million undocumented immigrants are essential workers - but most will not received any unemployment insurance or relief from the coronavirus stimulus bill.


Highlighted State Policies & Initiatives

Refer to this comprehensive Brookings Institution analysis of how the government could better protect essential workers.

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