(Kaiser Health News) Even as pandemic lockdowns fade into memory, covid-19 has transformed California’s workplace culture in ways researchers say will reverberate well beyond 2022.
According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, working from home for some portion of the week has become the new normal for a large segment of Californians. The data shows high-income employees with college degrees are more likely to have access to this hybrid work model, while lower-income employees stay the course with on-site responsibilities and daily commutes.
At a basic level, that means low-wage workers will continue to shoulder greater risks of infection and serious illness as new covid variants sweep through job sites, alongside seasonal waves of flu and other respiratory viruses. Multiple studies have found that covid took its greatest toll in low-income neighborhoods, whose workers were deemed essential during early pandemic lockdowns — the farmworkers, grocery clerks, warehouse packers, and other service employees who continued to report to work in person.
In addition, researchers say the shift will ripple across the broader economy in ways big and small, as more employees have the flexibility to live farther from a job site and as workplace traditions like lunch outings and bar nights fade or evolve.
The U.S. Census Bureau interviewed roughly 260,000 Americans from June through October, including about 20,000 Californians, as part of a wide-ranging questionnaire called the Household Pulse Survey. Surveyors asked dozens of questions about pandemic-era lifestyle changes, including some about working from home.
The survey found that nearly 20% of California adults lived in households in which at least one person had telecommuted or worked from home five days or more in the previous week. About 33% of California adults lived in households in which someone had worked from home at least one day the previous week.
Nationwide, the survey found that almost 30% of adults lived in households in which at least one person worked from home for some portion of the previous week. About 16% lived in households in which someone worked from home at least five days the previous week.
The results mark a notable shift from previous Census Bureau surveys that asked about working from home, though in different terms. In 2019, before the pandemic, about 6.3% of employed Californians and 5.7% of employed Americans said they “usually worked from home.”
Researchers who specialize in workforce issues said the findings mirror their own and are indicative of a cultural upheaval that will outlive the pandemic.
Jose Maria Barrero is an academic economist and a co-founder of WFH Research, which is documenting the shift toward working from home. Before the pandemic, about 5% of workdays in the U.S. were conducted from home, according to his group’s analyses. In contrast, its surveys this year show that about 30% of working days in the U.S. are now work-from-home days.