/Under 25 and Working? Social Distancing Might Not Be Possible

Under 25 and Working? Social Distancing Might Not Be Possible


In early April, Erin Payne drove to the group home in southwest Ohio where she cares for two men with serious disabilities. Normally, the 21-year-old would blare country music to keep her awake on her 40-minute commute. That day, she drove in silence.

“I was absolutely terrified,” she said.

She was returning to her position as a home health aide after six weeks of maternity leave, during which the coronavirus outbreak turned into a pandemic. Soon, she would be waking up her clients, dressing them, brushing their teeth, shaving them, and making their breakfast. Maintaining six feet, or even six inches, of distance would be impossible.

Learn more about WSJ Noted here.

Although Payne’s clients weren’t sick, another home health aide who worked in the same home had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

“I actually had to go back on my anti-anxiety medicine for it, because I was so anxious that I was throwing up in the morning,” she said.

The pandemic has made many people painfully aware that their jobs don’t allow for social distance. While many white-collar workers are not required to be in close proximity to others, about one in three Americans have jobs that demand it, according to an analysis of Labor Department data. Of those, cashiers and social workers can maintain the greatest distance; health care professionals and hairdressers, among others, have jobs that require the most physical contact.

How close Americans work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans work to

other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

There are plenty of jobs that don’t

require much human contact.

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of

Labor Statistics

Payne belongs to the one group of Americans who disproportionately hold jobs that require them to be near others: young people under 25. While only a small number of them work in the highest-contact industry — health care — many work in sectors like leisure and hospitality that necessitate at least arm’s-length proximity to customers or other workers.

Only half of workers under 25 have jobs that allow for social distance, compared with two-thirds of older workers. 

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Elementary/middle school teacher

Young people are less likely to have jobs that

allows for more social distance.

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Elementary/middle school teacher

Young people are less likely to have jobs that

allow for more social distance.

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Elementary/middle school teacher

Young people are less likely to have jobs that

allow for more social distance.

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Elementary/middle school teacher

Young people are less likely to have jobs that

allow for more social distance.

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people

work that job.

Elementary/middle

school teacher

Young people are less likely to have jobs that

allow for more social distance.

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

How close Americans under 25

work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Young people are less likely

to have jobs that allow for

more social distance.

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers;

Bureau of Labor Statistics

That is largely because most jobs that allow for social distancing and are available to people under 25 require college degrees.

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans

don’t require degrees — but require

them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require a college degree

Elementary/middle school teacher

Customer service

representative

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans don’t require

degrees — but require them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require a college degree

Elementary/middle school teacher

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans don’t require degrees — but require them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require a college degree

Elementary/middle school teacher

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans don’t require degrees — but require them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require a college degree

Elementary/middle school teacher

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25 work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans don’t require degrees — but require them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require a college degree

Elementary/middle

school teacher

Nursing, psychiatric, and

home health aide

Source: O*NET survey of American workers; Bureau of Labor Statistics

How close Americans under 25

work to other people

According to a survey of workers who perform a given job; the bigger the circle, the more people work that job.

Most jobs held by young Americans don’t require

degrees — but require them to be relatively near others.

Jobs that require

a college degree

Source: O*NET survey of American workers;

Bureau of Labor Statistics

And the industries where most young workers are employed, like leisure and hospitality, have had to shut down or drastically reduce staff, resulting in high unemployment rates.

Unemployment in industries with the most workers under 25

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

*This includes repair, maintenance, and laundry services, among other things.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment in industries with the most workers under 25

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

*This includes repair, maintenance, and laundry services, among other things.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment in industries with the most workers under 25

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

*This includes repair, maintenance, and laundry services, among other things.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment in industries with

the most workers under 25

These are people who are looking for work, but unable

to find it.

*This includes repair, maintenance, and laundry services,

among other things.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

In turn, while unemployment rates for young people have always been higher than for older people, they skyrocketed during the shutdown.

Unemployment rates, by age

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment rates, by age

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment rates, by age

These are people who are looking for work, but unable to find it.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment rates, by age

These are people who are looking for work, but unable

to find it.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

At an age when it’s especially hard for young people to find work — as they transition from school to workforce — the pandemic has forced many to choose between their livelihood and risking their well-being. In many states, where the cases are now surging after businesses and social gathering spaces, like bars, reopened, young people account for a disproportionate number of the positive tests.

On her first day back at work in April, Payne arrived at her clients’ home in a mask and gloves. She wiped down the entire house with bleach. But when she went to wake up her client, he didn’t recognize her with her mask on, so she had to briefly take it off.

“The whole time I was getting him dressed and ready, he was just touching me. It’s one of his things that he does with his disability,” she said. “He touches stuff that is unfamiliar to him or that he hasn’t seen in a while.”

She said, “That was very scary for me.”

The group left behind

In the past several decades, the rate of young people under 25 who are working has fallen 10 percentage points to 51 percent.

Percentage of people who are employed, by age group

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Percentage of people who are employed, by age group

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Percentage of people who are employed, by age group

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Percentage of people who are

employed, by age group

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Economists say it’s largely because more young people are completing high school and attending college — the product of an economy that increasingly values college degrees. In 1970, only a quarter of people 18 to 24 attended college; now it’s around 40 percent. Not only that: Students who would otherwise work are often taking on unpaid internships.

Read: How a Fledgling Harlem Restaurant Weathered Covid-19

That means young workers are, increasingly, people who aren’t working on a degree, and will never get one, either. And their households have, on average, just $460 in their checking and savings account compared to $1,000 for households led by someone older than 25, according to an analysis of the 2016 Consumer Finance Survey.

Young workers without a degree are far more likely to be people of color.

Racial demographics of workers under 25 who aren’t students

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Racial demographics of workers under 25 who aren’t students

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Racial demographics of workers under 25 who aren’t students

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Racial demographics of workers under 25 who aren’t students

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Young Black workers who aren’t in school are especially financially vulnerable; from the very start of their adulthood, they earn less than their white and Asian counterparts.

Average income for workers under 25 who aren’t students

The average wage in the past 12 months for people who only listed one race.

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Average income for workers under 25 who aren’t students

The average wage in the past 12 months for people who only listed one race.

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Average income for workers under 25 who aren’t students

The average wage in the past 12 months for people who only listed one race.

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018 five-year estimates

Average income for workers under

25 who aren’t students

The average wage in the past 12 months for people

who only listed one race.

Source: American Communities Survey, 2018

five-year estimates

And because Black and Hispanic families have accumulated about 10 percent of the generational wealth that white families have, people of color are less likely to be able to rely on their families as a safety net.

“That’s when inequality shines,” said Kathryn Anne Edwards, an economist for the Rand Corporation. “Who’s actually going to have someone catch them?”

Industries are adapting

The data on occupational proximity was gathered before the pandemic — before employers even knew that they should try to reshape the workplace to allow for social distance.

Edwards, the economist, says she expects many workplaces to evolve in the next year.

“We still have jobs that have forced human contact, but that’s not to say that restaurants won’t rearrange so that they have larger kitchens,” she said. “There’s lots of opportunity for change within workplaces. And the idea of inescapable human proximity is something I only see really binding in the health care sector.” 

One of the jobs that almost certainly won’t be able to adapt to allow for social distance is home health aides, a profession that will only grow in coming years. As Baby Boomers age and live longer, the demand for in-home care has grown rapidly. From 2012 to 2017, the U.S. added more than a million home health aide jobs.

Payne loves working with her clients at the group home, but her hours have been cut and she is barely making ends meet. Since having her baby, she has been living with her grandmother and saving on rent. But her bank account balance — normally about $200 — dipped down to about $50 in mid-June after paying for food and diapers. “You’re expensive,” she said to her cooing baby.

She has been thinking recently about whether she could get a job that allows for more social distancing, but finding any such work now would be next to impossible, she believes.

“There is really no option but to be around people right now, which is scary with everything that’s going on,” she said.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Original Source