Who Are Colorado’s Essential Workers?

While COVID-19 continues to ripple across our society, leading to blended online learning and working from home for many of us, there are a select share of Coloradans who are continuing to work and responding to the needs of all other Coloradans. Colorado’s essential workers range from nurses and doctors in hospitals to those keeping shelves stocked in grocery stores.1

Strikingly, we are depending on these workers to be our frontline of defense, yet do not pay many of them a living wage. Too many people are putting their lives at risk and are not afforded the benefits all workers deserve. This is particularly true for women and women of color in these essential industries. This analysis shows what the average essential worker “looks like,” how they are compensated, and highlights existing gaps in our workforce system.

Colorado’s Essential Workers

Slightly more than 20 percent of Colorado workers are essential workers who continue to show up at their place of work. Most of Colorado’s essential workers work in health care, with 44 percent of all essential workers working in hospitals or related care industries like nursing homes. These may be nurses and doctors, but can also include janitors and food servers in hospitals.

Colorado's essential workers by industry

All essential workers are slightly more likely to be women, however there is significant variation by industry. For instance, while 55 percent of all essential workers are women, workers in transportation are more likely to be men. Meanwhile, 77 percent of essential workers in health care and related industries are significantly more likely to be women.

Gender of Colorado's essential workers by industry

The variability in gender underscores how much demographics, and subsequently compensation, varies across and within industries. Workers in grocery stores, on average, have demonstrably lower wages than workers in other industries. However, when we look within industries, such as health care or grocery retail, a wide amount of variation is evident.

Income of Colorado workers in health care and related industries

Women, and women of color in particular, are more likely to be compensated less. This means women and women of color who are still out on the frontlines supporting our communities, are doing so for significantly less pay than men and white workers.

Share of Colorado workers earning a living wage

As we continue to rely on these workers, it’s critical to ensure we are supporting them as much as they are supporting us. This includes access to a fair and living wage, paid sick time, access to child care, and the countless resources all of us rely upon, not just in times of crisis, but at all times.

1 For the purpose of this post, we have looked only at essential workers that continue to work in-person, and have not included educators or other workers that, while essential, are mostly working remotely at this time. There are many Coloradans that continue to work during this time that are not included in the figures below.

*Living wage here is based on a definition from the Colorado Workforce Council’s Talent Pipeline report where a minimum living wage is established as an hourly rate of $13, which is $2 an hour above minimum wage, for an individual.

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