DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation has become highly dependent on frontline workers.
A new study conducted by the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth reveals that the South Coast region is more reliant on essential frontline workers compared to the rest of Massachusetts.
The study found these workers to be disproportionately low wage and female.
In 2018, an estimated 50,937 SouthCoast residents worked in essential industries, which represents more than one in four workers or about 26% of the region’s total workforce. This compares to one in five workers or about 20% statewide.
Michael McCarthy is a senior research associate with the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth.
“This is a large segment of our workforce, they’re out there doing important things, and it’s not necessarily people that you do think about on a regular basis in terms of responding to a health care crisis,” McCarthy said.
In addition to health care, industries tracked in the study include building cleaning services, public transit, grocery, convenience and drug stores, social services, plus trucking, warehousing and postal services.
The study found these workers are taking home about $27,000 a year, compared to nearly $50,000 a year for all South Coast workers. Data also showed one in ten essential workers earn a wage at or below the poverty line, in part due to fewer full-time employees.
Researchers found while the overall workforce of the SouthCoast is split almost evenly between men and women, in the frontline industries, more than two-thirds of the workers are women. Data showed women are more likely to work as cashiers in grocery stores, in addition to providing patient care in nursing homes or in-home settings.
Research also shows those employed in cleaning services, an important industry amid the pandemic, are most likely to be immigrants and non-citizens, predominantly people of color. Specifically, data found the 30% of workers in the building cleaning services industry in the South Coast are not U.S. citizens.
McCarthy says in particular, policymakers on the South Coast should be paying attention to the concerns of immigrant groups.
“We have a large number of Central American immigrants in this region, who are a lot likely to be undocumented than other immigrant groups, and those groups work in industries like this,” McCarthy said. “I think that workers who are undocumented are a little bit more susceptible to exploitation.”
The study also found compared to the regional workforce and other frontline industries, grocery, convenience and drug store workers are more likely to be under the age of 25. Data revealed the majority (59%) of frontline workers aged 14 to 18 years are employed at a grocery, convenience, or drug store.
“I think that people who are part-time in those industries generally don’t qualify for benefits. So you’re talking about kids, really, who are working on the frontlines,” McCarthy said.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.