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Remote Work, Which May Slow the Spread of the Coronavirus, Is Popular in These Cities

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Cover your cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a set of guidelines to stunt the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). But consider other time-tested methods that are effective in containing the spread of viruses: isolation and quarantine. For many office workers around the world, that translates to working from home.

Despite the fact that technology makes remote work accessible, just 5.3% of Americans work from home. The data team at LendingTree analyzed 2018 Census Bureau data to determine the places where employees work from home the most.

Key findings

  • Scottsdale, Ariz., leads the way with 14.4% of its residents working from home, a rate that’s nearly three times the national average.
    • Gilbert, another Arizona city, takes second at 9.8%.
    • Portland, Ore., and Atlanta tie for third with 9.6% of workers working from home.
  • Newark, N.J., takes the bottom spot with just 1.5% of workers being remote.
    • Toledo, Ohio, comes in right behind Newark with only 1.6% of workers reporting they work from home.
    • Rounding out the bottom three is Memphis, Tenn., which has a slightly higher rate of workers working from home at 2.2%.
  • The number of Americans who work entirely from home is 5.3% on average. Yet data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that nearly 29% of workers report they could work from home if necessary.
  • Besides 15-24 year olds, the 65+ demographic is the least likely to be able to work from home. Just 26% of workers over the age of 65 said they could work from home, lower than the national average of 29%.
    • Of the older cohort who said they could work from home, 35% said it would be unpaid work.
  • Access to remote work has a stark correlation to education level. Under 5% of Americans without a high school degree could work from home if necessary. This demographic typically has lower earnings to begin with.
    • The majority of workers (52%) with a bachelor’s degree or higher report being able to work from home if need be.
  • Just 2% of manufacturing jobs permit work from home, one of the lowest rates. None of the top 10 cities are manufacturing hubs.
  • Cities outside the core of the New York metro area have low work from home rates. Newark and Jersey City, N.J., report 3% or less of workers commuting to work.
    • This data point might represent people whose jobs require them to be in New York for work but live in more affordable areas.
  • People who are most likely to work from home are in the management, business, science and arts occupations fields, alongside those in military occupations. Our data shows 7.4% of people in those occupations work from home.
  • The industry with the highest rate of people working from home is professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services at 11.9%.

Where people work from home the most (and the least)

Looking at the map above, it’s hard to discern any regional patterns when it comes to remote work benefits. Two cities in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland, Ore., lead the pack, as well as a few other western cities and three cities in Colorado. Workers in New York City and the surrounding areas don’t have good prospects when it comes to working from home.

There’s also a clear red line along the Rust Belt, a region known for its history of manufacturing. This makes sense: Just 2% of production and transportation occupation workers have the ability to work remotely.

Scottsdale, Ariz., has an exceptionally high rate of residents who work from home. About one in seven (14.4%) workers do their jobs from the comfort of their own homes. Scottsdale has nearly 5 percentage points more remote workers than the second city, Gilbert (9.8%), which is also in the Grand Canyon State.

With about 14% of the population able to stay home rather than report to an office, Scottsdale may already be fairly prepared to stunt the spread of the coronavirus.

Work from home rates by industry and occupation

Service industry workers and public officials face limited remote work benefits

Workers in the service industry (arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodation and food services) could get hit hard by a severe coronavirus outbreak. This industry includes employees whose jobs require them to come to work, such as restaurant workers and cashiers. Their employers, businesses like restaurants and bars, could also get hit hard if people decide not to dine out or not go to social events to avoid catching the coronavirus.

Public administration officials, like police officers and administrative workers, also have to report in. This industry has the least amount of remote workers, at just 2.6%.

On the other hand, nearly 12% of workers in the professional, scientific and management, and administrative and waste management services industries work from home. This sect of workers includes but is not limited to:

  • Software developers
  • Chief executives and legislators
  • Lawyers and other judicial workers
  • Management analysts
  • Miscellaneous engineers

Production and transportation occupations have the least remote workers

It’s probably no surprise that the vast majority of workers in an occupation that includes truck drivers and manufacturing workers can’t work from home. Ninety-eight percent of workers in the production, transportation and material moving occupations have to report to their work site.

Just 3.1% of workers in the natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations are able to work from home. This field includes labor workers like electricians and oil rig workers.

Management, business, science and arts occupations is a large umbrella that encompasses nearly 60 million American workers. This significant population of workers also has the most remote employees, at 7.4%.

Besides occupation, other demographics influence remote work access

Senior Americans work from home less often

Americans who are 65 and older are more susceptible to the respiratory illnesses that are caused by COVID-19, yet they are less likely to be able to work from home than their younger counterparts. A recent Chinese study found that the fatality rate in patients age 70 to 79 was 8%, nearly five percentage points higher than the reported global mortality rate of 3.4%.

Here’s the percentage of Americans who have the ability to work from home by age group, according to BLS data for 2017-18:

  • 15 to 24 years old: 6.7%*
  • 25 to 34 years old: 31.4%
  • 35 to 44 years old: 36.2%
  • 45 to 55 years old: 32.5%
  • 55 to 64 years old: 32.5%
  • 65 years and older: 25.5%

*The youngest group of workers is an outlier here, because it’s comprised of more service industry employees, whose jobs prevent them from working from home.

College-educated workers are more likely to work from home

College graduates have far more remote work opportunities than those without degrees, according to BLS data. In fact, less than 5% of American workers who didn’t graduate from high school could work from home if they needed to.

More than half (52%) of Americans who have a bachelor’s degree or higher have the ability to work from home. One in four (24.2%) workers who have some college education or an associates degree can work from home. For high school graduates or those who never earned a high school diploma, those numbers are much lower: 12.6% and 4.2%, respectively.

Big tech companies tell employees to stay home amid the coronavirus outbreak

Open offices, kids’ birthday parties and motel rooms are petri dishes for germs. If you’re like many office workers, you’re using shared surfaces and working within coughing or sneezing distance (that’s within 6 feet) of multiple people. Even hand sanitizer and face masks may be futile in stopping the spread of a virus in that kind of environment.

Americans who have the option to work from home may consider taking advantage of that benefit to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Many big tech companies in Seattle, a hotbed for the outbreak in the U.S., have already suggested that their employees work from home. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are telling employees in this area to work remotely. Seattle ranks No. 14, our study found, with 7.7% of its workers being remote.

Many other companies across America are restricting nonessential work travel for its employees and canceling events due to the outbreak. For instance, Facebook has canceled the in-person component of the F8 Facebook Developer Conference, and will conduct the event virtually amid growing concerns about COVID-19.

During an outbreak, paid sick leave comes into play

Having a job with extensive benefits grants workers an extra layer of protection during emergency situations. Working from home is a great way to get ahead of a viral outbreak, but you’ll fare even better if you have paid sick leave and employer-sponsored health insurance.

About one in four Americans does not have paid sick leave, according to a March 2019 National Compensation Survey from BLS. Many workers can’t take advantage of paid personal leave or vacation time as a way to guarantee income if they’re too sick to work:

  • 81% of Americans don’t have access to paid family leave
  • 54% don’t have access to personal leave
  • 24% don’t have access to paid sick leave
  • 24% don’t have access to paid vacation time
  • 22% don’t have access to paid holidays

Companies that offer remote work and sick leave will actually benefit during times of an outbreak. When sick employees stay home, they’re not spreading a disease to their co-workers; when healthy employees stay home, they’re not catching a sickness that will put them out of work.

Coronavirus will be an issue for millions of uninsured Americans

Those with health insurance will also have a leg up during the coronavirus outbreak. Insured Americans can get tested for the virus for free, Vice President Mike Pence said at a recent press conference. That’s a problem for the millions of Americans who are uninsured. More than 27 million Americans (8.5% of adults) didn’t have health insurance in 2018, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

Those who seek health care to combat COVID-19 might still be stuck with insurmountable medical bills during recovery even if they’re insured. In 2018, nearly half of American adults under 65 are underinsured, according to a health insurance survey from the Commonwealth Fund, a health care nonprofit.

Workers who are able to take advantage of their benefits should do so to stop the risk of catching and spreading the virus. It’s the same concept as herd immunity when it comes to vaccination: By taking all the precautions possible, you’re helping keep yourself and others from getting sick. If you’re in an area affected by COVID-19, working from home could help protect those who are most vulnerable, like the elderly and people with autoimmune diseases.

Methodology

To find the percentage of workers who work from home, researchers found the total number of people who worked from home and divided it by the total number of workers. Data for all metrics comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey.

 

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