Report title: Frontline Workers in the SouthCoast

Author(s): Michael McCarthy, Salvador Balkus, and David Borges

Report date: May 2020

Sponsor: Southcoast Health

Issue areas: COVID-19, workforce analysis, economic equality

Summary & key findings: A data brief completed as part of a partnership with Southcoast Health, shows that the South Coast region is more reliant on essential frontline workers as compared to the rest of Massachusetts. These workers earn less on average than the workforce as a whole, and many are women with caregiver responsibilities in the home, according to the analysis. This segment of the region’s workforce includes workers in six crucial industries: building cleaning services; public transit; grocery, convenience and drug stores; health care; social services; and trucking, warehousing and postal services.

In 2018, an estimated 50,937 South Coast residents worked in essential industries, which represents more than one in four workers (26 percent of the region’s total workforce), compared to one in five workers (20 percent) statewide. The region’s essential frontline workers earn much less than the average worker. The average annual wage for essential workers on the South Coast is about $27,000, compared to $48,293 for all South Coast workers. One in 10 essential workers earn a wage that is at or below the poverty level. Nearly three-quarters of essential workers earn less than $50,000 annually. Some of this disparity is because many in these industries work part-time and are also less likely to receive employer health care benefits.

Workers employed to clean buildings, a function crucial to maintaining a virus-free environment, are more likely to be immigrants and non-citizens, predominantly people of color. They are also more likely than other frontline workers to lack health insurance and access to health care.

Frontline workers are also more likely to be women earning a lower wage. Women are more likely to work as cashiers in grocery stores and provide direct patient care in nursing homes and similar settings. Women are also more likely to be family caregivers for children and elderly family members. This makes access to safe and high-quality childcare a vital concern to many essential workers, particularly when schools are closed.

The data brief is part of an ongoing collaboration on community health improvement between the PPC and Southcoast Health.

Report link: Access the report here.