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Ball State: Social Distancing to Negatively Affect Millions of Americans

March 16, 2020
Research surrounding this phenomenon doesn't exist, until now.

Social distancing will "disproportionately" affect Americans who work in direct-facing customer service roles.

Ball State University researchers have analyzed data from the O*NET, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored tool that provides career exploration and job analysis.

Dr. Michael J. Hicks, director of Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Researchers, indicates that employees in industries such as restaurants, movie theaters and recreational activities that are closed during the COVID-19 outbreak will face negative labor demand shocks as businesses close and workers have their hours cut or jobs are eliminated.

“These workers are in occupations that are less well paid on average,” he says in a statement. “Though we don’t have data available on benefits, it is near certain these workers are in occupations well known to have lower incidence of sick days, stable work hours and other forms of workplace benefits. This makes staying home from work and accessing medical treatment (or even diagnosis) difficult for infected workers. And, given the types of tasks performed by these workers, it is difficult for coworkers to maintain appropriate social distances, increasing the transmission of the virus.”

This shockwave will affect 1 in 6 Americans, according to the report.

CBER's “Occupational Exposure to Social Distancing: A Preliminary Analysis Using O*NET Data,” discovered that there are about 28 million jobs involving high levels of physical proximity with others and working with others. These jobs pay an average of $32,774 per year.

Hicks acknowledges in his statement that the research team does not have good comparative evidence on the wage effects of extreme social distancing because it has not happened for decades.

Economic analysis simply does not exist. Most of the available research is focused on natural disasters and singular events such as terrorist attacks that are geographically isolated and not on a global scale.

There is some analysis available that examines the aftermath of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) on tourism in Asia . 

The study references the Congressional Budget Office's models of two pandemic scenarios involving the H1N1 virus. Data from these models was gathered from the 1918-19 Spanish Flu and two smaller pandemics from the 1950's and 1960's.

This makes the report one of the first widespread studies of this occurrence. Much of the analysis is based on "significant assumptions regarding the magnitude of lost wages" because of social distancing.

“We cannot predict the duration or share of jobs lost to prudent disease-prevention measures," he explains. "However, we can predict that the amount will be significant and warrants immediate public-policy attention among federal and state policymakers.”

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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