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Essential, Frontline, and High Risk: How COVID-19 Prioritized Low-wage Workers while Heightening their Disadvantage

Working Paper Number SEHSD-WP2022-08
Lindsay M. Monte and Lynda Laughlin


Defining the essential workforce during the global health pandemic presents several challenges for researchers and policy makers. In this analysis, we attempt to articulate a definition of essential workers in the COVID-19 pandemic.  We argue that it is the combination of three distinct classifications of the work environment – essential, frontline, and high-risk - that should inform policy around essential work, and using those classifications, we demonstrate the significant needs faced by many in such occupations.

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