Working From Home During A Pandemic Isn't For Everyone | KERA News

Working From Home During A Pandemic Isn't For Everyone

Apr 21, 2020

Many Americans are trying to work from home while shelter-in-place orders keep them out of the workplace.

But that's not an option for everyone. In fact, about 22 million people filed for unemployment in recent weeks, including a lot of Texans with jobs that have all but disappeared.

People who have "remote-compatible" jobs make up roughly 39% of full-time workers in the U.S. and 37% of full-time workers in Texas, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The research also shows that low-income and minority workers are less likely to have the option to work remotely.

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As a part of KERA's One Crisis Away series "Coronavirus and Life on the Financial Edge," Yichen Su of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas talks about why remote work often isn't even possible.

Interview Highlights

On Picking Who Works From Home:

Basically the challenge of trying to understand who can or who can't work from home is that we have never seen this kind of situation happen before, so we never have a case in which most non-essential work sites are shutdown. 

So, I use this data set from the U.S. Department of Labor called Occupation Information Network, or O*NET. For every occupation, you have a whole host of variables that describe the characteristics of the job.

For example, does the job involve a lot of use of email? Do you have to touch people all the time? Do you get exposed to disease or does it involve a lot of physical movements? Things like that.

On Who Has An Advantage:

For Texas, about 27% of workers with no college degree can work from home, whereas 57% of workers with college degrees can work from home.

So the fraction of workers who can work from home per worker with college degree, that fraction is almost twice the fraction for workers with no college degree, and income also makes a big difference. 

On Remote Working Racial Disparities:

Asian Americans are most likely to have the option to work from home about 50%.

For whites it's about 47% and for African Americans it's about 33%, which is much lower than Asians and whites. And for Hispanics, it's even lower at 23%. 

This is basically driven by the occupation composition among these different demographic groups.

The type of work that is typically categorized as remote compatible is typically white collar work. For example, accountants, software designers, financial managers, lawyers, those types of jobs.

So for example, among Asian Americans and white Americans, the fraction of people working in those jobs is higher. So that's basically what's driving the difference. 

On Which Texas Cities Are More Suitable For Remote Working:

Austin easily has the highest number of remote compatible workers, which is 48% and that is followed by Dallas, which is 42%, and then followed by Houston, which is 40%.

San Antonio is about 37% and the rest of Texas is much lower at 28%.

Yichen Su is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.