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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Work-from-home not a choice for poor, less educated

Workers in jobs that can’t be done from home are without insurance and have low earnings, a US study suggests

MUMBAI : Less educated and low-income workers are far less likely to be in jobs that allow them the work-from-home (WFH) or social-distancing options, and hence are more vulnerable during the covid-19 lockdowns, a US study suggests.

The share of workers without a college degree was 38 percentage points more in jobs without the work-from-home option than other jobs, the working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows. Simon Mongey of the University of Chicago and others used data from the Occupational Information Network and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to study demographics for such flexibilities at work.

Gender, birthplace, marital status, access to health insurance and home ownership also determine how likely a worker is to be in a work-from-home job, the study finds. Legal, financial and management services were found to have the option more easily, but construction and healthcare jobs required on-site presence.

The study finds workers in low work-from-home and high-proximity jobs more exposed to the virus and also economically more vulnerable.

The odds are high for workers in such jobs to be migrants, and a low work-from-home job is about 25 percentage points more likely to employ a worker at below-median wages.

The authors find workers at high risk to be tenants, less likely to have collateral to borrow, or have health insurance at the workplace. Workers at high risk are found to have a hand-to-mouth existence as the liquid assets owned by them are worth less than half their month’s income.

Comparing change in employment in February-March 2020 with the same period in the last decade, the study suggests that workers who could not readily work from home - except in healthcare and agriculture - could be hit harder by job losses due to covid-19.

Also read: Which workers bear the burden of social distancing policies? (

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