- The pandemic exacerbated a series of existing inequalities; those in higher economic standing were able to work from home more while workers from lower socio-economic and educational backgrounds had to work in person.
- Store clerks, factory workers, and waiters cannot do their jobs remotely, thus exposing them to the public and the virus.
- Deutsche Bank proposed last year that those who can work from home should be taxed as they receive direct and indirect financial benefits.
The pandemic exacerbated a series of existing inequalities; those in higher economic standing were able to work from home more while workers from lower socio-economic and educational backgrounds had to work in person – even at the height of the pandemic.
Those who write, talk, and compute for a living have the privilege of work flexibility.
One in five U.S. workers are able to work remotely due to the pandemic, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute (which analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2020 to April of this year).
For many privileged workers, the pandemic has meant that the terms and conditions of their work can be reexamined. But what about the workers who we rely on for our health care, transportation services, or groceries?
Remote and hybrid working has been made available to people with higher education and socio-economic status
The ability to work from home was not created equally; disparities have persisted over the course of the pandemic.
About six in 10 workers with at least a bachelor’s degree were able to work remotely toward the start of the pandemic, compared to just 12% of workers with a high-school diploma or less.
Workers of different races and ethnicities have also had varying levels of access to remote work during the pandemic, with 15% of Hispanic workers, 20% of Black workers, 26% of white workers, and 39% Asian-American and Pacific Islander workers reporting they worked from home.
Those that work in essential jobs that require them to commute to work outside the home have suffered the racial and socio-economic health disparities related to COVID-19.
Store clerks, factory workers, and waiters cannot do their jobs remotely, thus exposing them to the public and the virus.
Why is it a privilege to work from home?
- Not having to work in person already greatly reduces your exposure to COVID-19. Those who work in the service or hospitality industries have not had the option to work from home on their computer.
- When working from home, commuting no longer becomes an issue. The hassle of navigating traffic and commuting nearly an hour a day gets eliminated.
- More time at home means more time with family; those who have had to go to work in person have not had the luxury of staying at home with their family during the pandemic.
- To most people, autonomy and flexibility are some of the most important aspects of their ability to work. The capability to choose to come into the office or not is a huge luxury.
In a report from last year, a Deutsche Bank researcher even suggested that those working from home should be taxed.
Luke Templeman, a London-based researcher at global financial firm Deutsche Bank, argued that governments around the world should tax employees who have the privilege of working remotely an additional 5% on their earnings, with the revenues going to front-line emergency workers and others who can’t work from home.
“For years we have needed a tax on remote workers—COVID has just made it obvious. Those who can work from home receive direct and indirect financial benefits and they should be taxed in order to smooth the transition process for those who have been suddenly displaced,” Templeman said.
While this may not be a popular opinion with the rest of the world, it is helpful to simply be mindful of the inequity in the way in which different people must work.
Essential workers don’t have the option of working from home
According to a Prudential survey of 2,000 adults who’ve been able to work from home during the pandemic, an overwhelming 87% want the ability to continue remote working after the risks of the virus subside.
One in three employees doesn’t want to work for an entity that requires them to be onsite full-time, and nearly half of workers said that if their company doesn’t extend their current remote-work policy, they’ll quit to work for another one that does.
Essential workers don’t usually have the luxury of quitting their jobs. Society needs food, postal delivery, firefighters, and hospital cleaning staff.
Sheltering at home is a luxury reserved primarily for those with secure incomes and white-collar jobs. For a normal society to continue, many workers have to go into work in order to feed and protect the rest of us.
An Upwork survey suggested that 36 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025 – an 87% increase over pre-pandemic levels.
The benefits of working from home – including skipping a long commute and having a better work-life balance – will hopefully be more inclusive for a wider variety of workers in the future.
As white-collar workplaces debate the future of hybrid and remote work with more and more people becoming fully vaccinated, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that access to remote work during the pandemic has been a privilege for a lucky few, not the norm.