Differential occupational risk for COVID-19 and other infection exposure according to race and ethnicity

Am J Ind Med. 2020 Sep;63(9):817-820. doi: 10.1002/ajim.23145. Epub 2020 Jun 15.


Background: There are racial and ethnic disparities in the risk of contracting COVID-19. This study sought to assess how occupational segregation according to race and ethnicity may contribute to the risk of COVID-19.

Methods: Data about employment in 2019 by industry and occupation and race and ethnicity were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey. This data was combined with information about industries according to whether they were likely or possibly essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and the frequency of exposure to infections and close proximity to others by occupation. The percentage of workers employed in essential industries and occupations with a high risk of infection and close proximity to others by race and ethnicity was calculated.

Results: People of color were more likely to be employed in essential industries and in occupations with more exposure to infections and close proximity to others. Black workers in particular faced an elevated risk for all of these factors.

Conclusion: Occupational segregation into high-risk industries and occupations likely contributes to differential risk with respect to COVID-19. Providing adequate protections to workers may help to reduce these disparities.

Keywords: COVID-19; infectious disease; occupational health; occupational segregation; racial/ethnic disparities.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / ethnology*
  • Ethnicity
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupational Health
  • Occupations
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / ethnology*
  • Racial Groups
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States / epidemiology