Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, essential workers have supported the well-being of our communities and the economy, but inconsistencies in federal, state, and local essential worker policies have limited some workers’ access to paid sick days, greater compensation, and other benefits. This brief, published jointly with the Georgetown Law Workers’ Rights Institute, provides an inclusive definition of essential workers, and finds that women, people of color, and immigrants are over-represented in the essential workforce and face increased risks related to COVID-19.

Key Takeaways

  • Essential workers are those whose jobs are critical to maintaining the core functions of public health, society, and the economy, and who cannot work remotely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There are an estimated 50 million essential workers—nearly a third of the American workforce.
  • Essential workers are more likely to be women, people of color, and immigrants than are other workers.