Press Release Coronavirus US Workers

Workers in Illinois and Chicago’s Frontline Industries Are Disproportionately Low-income, Nonwhite, Women

05/06/2020 12:00am

Contact: Karen Conner, 202-281-4159Mail_Outline

Washington, DC ― Workers like grocery store clerks, nurses, cleaners, warehouse workers, and bus drivers are finding themselves on the frontlines of the global pandemic. In Illinois and the Chicago area, a new analysis shows they are disproportionately low-income, nonwhite, and are women. 

Workers in Frontline Industries in Chicago and Illinois, released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), looks at six industry groups employing workers that are now on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

There are more than 1.3 million workers in frontline industries in Illinois. About 270,000 of these workers are in Chicago, while about 280,000 workers are in Chicago’s suburbs (Cook County, excluding Chicago), write co-authors Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown, Shawn Fremstad, and Peter Creticos.

Women are overrepresented in frontline industries in both Chicago and its suburbs (63.4 percent and 61.0 percent, respectively). Nonwhite workers are also overrepresented in Chicago’s frontline industries. Black workers are overrepresented in all frontline industries except for Building Cleaning Services, where more than half of the workforce is Hispanic (50.4 percent). 

Low-income Chicago workers are overrepresented in Grocery, Convenience, and Drug Stores (36.5 percent), Building Cleaning Services (39.8 percent), and Child Care and Social Services (35.5 percent).

While the COVID-19 legislation passed by Congress to date includes some important protections for frontline workers, too many of these workers remain under protected and under compensated. 

“The federal government needs to do much more to help states and other large cities, including Illinois and Chicago, to expand efforts to ensure that workers on the frontlines of the pandemic receive the compensation and protection they deserve,” said co-author Hye Jin Rho.

In the meantime, Chicago is moving ahead with a proposed COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance, which would ensure “that employees will be able to remain at home if they have COVID-19 symptoms or are subject to a quarantine isolation order without fear of being fired.” In addition, a regional COVID-19 Recovery Task Force has been formed to study the full extent of the pandemic-related economic hardship for the city and business community. 

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