The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how critical essential workers are in maintaining America’s public health, transportation, food, infrastructure, and emergency services. While most Americans stayed at home, they continued carrying out their job functions at hospitals, police stations, farms, and so many other places.
The majority of these people in America work in the health care, food, and agriculture industries. However, other sectors like government and community services, transportation, and energy infrastructure have lots of this type of personnel, too.
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Let’s break down what an “essential worker” actually means. At the height of the pandemic, different federal, state, and local legislative bodies had to create definitions to comply with COVID-19 regulations and mandates.
The most applicable definition comes from the National Council of State Legislatures, which defines them as “those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operations.”
Critical infrastructure operations is a broad term, and rightfully so. It stresses the all-encompassing nature of their work. They deliver mail in the morning, patrol highways at night, send power to houses, grow crops for breakfast, and take care of folks in hospitals.
Photo Courtesy Mick Haupt
Days To Celebrate
Various states and organizations have designated celebratory days for our essential workforce, and the sheer amount is evidence of how important they truly are to our society.
- April 28, 2020: Workers Memorial Day, which honors killed personnel, included a special emphasis on essential workers who passed away.
- Oct. 7, 2020: World Day for Decent Work launched a campaign demanding fundamental rights for their labor.
- June 17, 2021: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed June 17 as Essential Worker Appreciation Day.
- March 15, 2022: Nine-year-old Ja’Nay Ratcliff convinced the mayor of Killeen, TX, to declare March 15 Essential Workers Day.
- Sept. 1, 2022: The U.S. Department of Labor inducted essential workers of the COVID-19 pandemic into the Labor Hall of Honor.
Wide Range Of Industries
Essential workers encompass various industries, occupations, demographics, and education levels. Here are some of the most important and interesting data surrounding their work in the U.S.:
- Approximately 76% of the essential health care workforce is women, and about 96% of the essential energy sector is men.
- Almost 70% do not have a college degree, and about 30% have some college.
- Thirty percent are in health care, 20% in food and agriculture, and 12% in commercial, industrial, and residential facilities and services.
Show Some Appreciation
Obviously, this part of the workforce is crucial to the everyday functioning of society. But how can we actually show our appreciation?
- Donate Money. Search for local fundraising campaigns or national organizations, like Thrive Global’s First Responders First fund.
- Donate Food. Different groups organize food drives to feed families, like Food for the Frontlines.
- Give a Big Tip. The next time you order UberEats, DoorDash, or eat at a local restaurant, support by leaving an extra large tip if you have the means.
- Say Thanks! A simple thank you can mean a lot, so say thanks or give a card.
- Start a Local Essential Worker Appreciation Day. If a 9-year-old can do it, why can’t you?
Photo Courtesy Nicholas Bartos
The term “essential workers” is aptly named. Whether it’s frontline nurses in New York City working overtime to care for patients, firefighters responding to California forest fires, or farmers in Texas growing corn, they’re all around us. Their work is vital to keep the country healthy, safe, and operating. So, to all essential workers worldwide: thank you for all that you do.