Essential work: Employment and outlook
in occupations that protect and provide
Elka Torpey | September 2020
During a crisis, like a hurricane or the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations close temporarily while others
continue—perhaps even changing their mission. Which workers stay on the job in chaotic times, and what’s the
long-term outlook in their occupations?
Workers in hospitals, food manufacturing plants, and utilities are among those who may be required to report in
person. Exactly which workers are considered “essential” may differ, depending on where they live and other
factors. But the goods or services that they provide are nearly always vital, in some way, to life and welfare.
This article highlights U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for selected occupations in which workers help to
carry out critical tasks. Keep reading to learn more about the employment, projected openings, wages, and typical
entry requirements for these occupations.
U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
What’s considered essential work in emergencies may vary, depending on where you live. Guidelines from the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggest that the essential workforce includes those who provide:
public health and safety,
essential products, and
other infrastructure support.
The occupations selected for this article are just a few of the hundreds of occupations that the Labor Market
Information (LMI) Institute identifies as being part of the critical infrastructure workforce, as outlined by the DHS
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). (See illustration 1.)
Essential occupations, by task
Workers in essential occupations have a variety of duties. Not all workers in these occupations are called on
during a crisis, but some are. And they often must risk their own health or safety in such circumstances.
For selected occupations, tables in each section that follows show 2019 employment, 2019 median annual wages,
and the entry-level educa