Here are the jobs with the largest increase in deaths in the pandemic

Denitsa Tsekova
·3 min read

Essential workers, especially those of color, have suffered the greatest risk of death during the pandemic among all occupations, a new study of death records in California found.

Workers in the food and agricultural sector saw a 39% increase in their mortality rate since the pandemic began, according to an analysis by the University of California at San Francisco that looked at death certificate data for working-age adults in the last four years in California. But Hispanic and Black workers in the sector faced the most risk, with their mortality rates increasing 59% and 34%, respectively, while whites in the same jobs experienced a 16% increase in deaths.

The jobs with the highest increase in mortality were cooks (60%), packaging and filling machine operators and tenders (59%), and miscellaneous agricultural workers (55%).

“These are low-wage jobs that are predominantly filled by people of color,” said Kate Duchowny, a postdoctoral scholar at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, told Yahoo Money. “They don't necessarily have proper workplace protections and or adequate personal protective equipment to shield them from doing the work that has kept the economy going.”

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Other sectors with a high increase in mortality included transportation or logistics and facilities with a 28% and 27% increase respectively. Other occupations with increased death risk included bakers, construction laborers, production workers, and others.

While shutdowns worked well to slow and stem the spreading of the virus, the study found that people who have continued to work have seen a disproportionally higher risk of dying than workers who were able to stay at home.

'Not have the same social capital to demand the protections'

A restaurant adapts to the Covid-19 pandemic and stay at home orders by pivoting to take out and delivery.
A restaurant adapts to the Covid-19 pandemic and stay at home orders by pivoting to take out and delivery. Photo: Getty Creative

Hispanic, Black, and Asian workers not only saw the highest increase of deaths in sectors that also had the greatest excess mortality growth overall, but also in sectors where the increase wasn’t that sharp.

For instance, in the health or emergency sector, the overall increase in deaths during the pandemic was 19%. But the rate increase was 40% for Asians, 32% for Hispanics, and 27% for Black workers in that sector. By contrast, white workers in that sector saw just a 2% increase.

“In nearly every occupational sector and every job in this study, we observed the greatest excess risk of dying among Latinos, followed by Black and Asian workers," Duchowny said. "There were small to moderate increases among white workers.”

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The smaller increase in mortality among white health or emergency workers demonstrates that risks can be mitigated when workers are "adequately protected" with personal protective equipment (PPE) and workplace protections, according to Duchowny. But all workers must have access to PPE, no matter their seniority level, especially those of color whose communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

"They may not have the same social capital to demand the protections that they need in order to do their job," Duchowny said, "and are therefore suffering greater consequences in terms of COVID mortality."

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Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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