A recent study University of Chicago economists Jonathan Dingel and Brent Nieman found that 37 percent of jobs in the USA can be done at home – teleworkable. The the top five industry sectors are education, professional, scientific and technical services, management, finance and insurance and information. The bottom five are transportation and warehousing, construction, retail trade, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and accommodation and food services. There is diversity between and within regions on the proportion of teleworkable jobs and the authors provide estimates across metro areas.

Let’s look at a snapshot of metro areas in Minnesota from data provided by the study. Teleworkable jobs range from 30 percent in the Mankator MSA to 41 percent in the Twin Cities MSA.

Another way to look at these jobs are by various occupations. The Table below from the authors’ table shows major occupational groups that are teleworkable.

However another study by Simon Mongey and Alex Weinberg (2020) reaches a sobering conclusion:

..workers in low work-from-home occupations are less likely to be white, have a college degree, or have employer provided healthcare, more likely to be in the bottom half of the income distribution, and more likely to rent their homes. These workers are less likely to have access to informal insurance channels: more likely to be single, and less likely to be born in the United States. They are also less likely to have had stable jobs: more likely to have been unemployed in the last year, less likely to be employed full-time, and less likely to be employed in large firms.

The authors illustrate the higher probability of certain demographic groups being in low teleworkable jobs – characteristics that policy makers should keep in mind when prioritizing demographic groups needing assistance during this economic disaster. The table below from the authors’ paper shows these different demographic groups. The blue indicators show the increasing probability that low teleworkable jobs are within the demographic groups on the vertical axis. For example workers in low teleworkable jobs tend to have no college degree, below median income, are renters, work in small businesses, non white and were born outside the US.

Policy Implications

Policy makers should focus on the jobs that are teleworkable and provide as much support and resources to enable them to function as effectively and productively as possible as they will be the critical mass of stable employment and income in the coming months. Income growth in these sectors will help keep the consumption economy going that will indirectly help those sectors that are not teleworkable.

Policy maker should focus on the jobs that are not teleworkable and target social insurance, grants and other resources to help them through this difficult transition period. For instance, loan and grant programs should prioritize these sectors to help them weather the storm. The characteristics identified by Simon Mongey and Alex Weinberg (2020) in the chart above could also be good screening tools to get resources to the ones most in need.