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Essential Work: Employment and Outlook in Occupations that Protect and Provide

Essential Work: Employment and Outlook in Occupations that Protect and Provide

During a crisis, like a hurricane or the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations close temporarily while others continue; perhaps even changing their mission. Which workers stay on the job in chaotic times, and what's the long-term outlook in their occupations? Workers in hospitals, food manufacturing plants, and utilities are among those who may be required to report in person. Exactly which workers are considered "essential" may differ, depending on where they live and other factors. But the goods or services that they provide are nearly always vital, in some way, to life and welfare. Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggest that essential workers includes those who provide public health and safety, essential products, and other infrastructure support.

The tables in each of the three sections below show 2019 employment, 2019 median annual wages, and the entry-level education and training typically required for selected occupations at the national level. For comparison, the median annual wage for all occupations in the US in 2019 was $39,810. The tables also show the number of occupational openings the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects each year, on average, from 2019 to 2029 1.

Public health and safety

Helping people stay or get well and keeping them safe is the job of many workers in career fields such as healthcare and protective service. Selected occupations involved in this work are shown in Table 1. Physicians and surgeons includes detailed occupations such as anesthesiologists, internal medicine physicians, and pediatricians.

Essential products

Making sure millions of people in crisis have what they need, such as food and medication, is a big undertaking. Workers in farming and fishing, production, and transportation and material moving occupations are among those who help to get essential products to consumers. Table 2 shows some of these occupations. Food processing workers includes occupations such as bakers, butchers, and others in food production. Agricultural workers includes farmworkers and laborers, agricultural equipment operators, and related occupations.

Other infrastructure support

Utilities, information technology systems, banks, and other vital infrastructure require support from a variety of workers. (See Table 3.) For example, there are several types of plant and systems operators, such as those who work at chemical, power, and water treatment plants. Similarly, engineering occupations include civil, industrial, and mechanical engineers.

1BLS projections focus on long-term trends that capture structural change in the economy, such as growth in online sales or increased demand for healthcare. The projections do not consider events that impact short-term conditions, such as a stock-market surge or natural disaster. Any long-term economic changes that may result from the COVID-19 pandemic had not yet been determined at the time the 2019-29 projections were developed.

Source: Beyond the Numbers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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