These States Have the Most Essential Workers

Six months ago, it was unthinkable that simply leaving the comfort of home and going into work could endanger one’s life. However, that is now the reality for millions of frontline workers.

When a pandemic broke out in the United States in early 2020, in many ways, business as usual came to a halt. Jobs that could be performed from home went remote, and those that couldn’t, but were nonessential, simply ceased to exist for the time being. That’s why one in five American workers have filed for unemployment for the first time since mid-March. 

However, there is a third sector of professionals that cannot work from home but are nonetheless indispensable to the day-to-day health and functioning of the country. These essential workers perform a myriad of responsibilities including healthcare, imperative construction work, food production and distribution, and many others.

While every community is home to its own critical employees, some have more workers putting their lives at risk on the frontline than others. To explore the geographic distribution of critical work, the data science and research team at Insurify examined the percentage of drivers in each state employed in an essential field. This is what they found.

Insights

  • National average. In the United States, an average of 7.78 percent of workers, or a little less than 2 out of 25, are currently employed in essential jobs.
  • Regional differences. Among the four Census Bureau-designated regions in the United States, the proportion of essential workers to nonessential workers remains approximately the same – despite a greater variation among individual states. Specifically, The South is home to the highest proportion of essential workers (8.77 percent), while the West is home to the lowest proportion (7.48 percent). The Midwest and Northeast fall in between, at 8.26 percent and 8.65 percent, respectively. 
  • Fewer frontline workers in Nevada. Given that the majority of the Battle Born State’s 2019 GDP growth was driven by recreation, real estate, entertainment, and associated businesses according to Statista, it may come as no surprise that Nevada has some of the fewest employees working in crucial roles compared to its overall population.

Methodology

To find the states with the highest proportion of essential workers, the data science and research team at Insurify, an insurance quotes comparison site, referred to their database of over 2 million insurance applications. When applying for insurance, individuals list their occupation, as well as their state of legal residence. Essential workers were identified in Insurify’s database based on the list of workers deemed essential according to the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.). The statewide population of essential workers was then compared to the total number of workers in that state. From this, the ten states with the highest proportion of essential workers were selected. Massachusetts was excluded from the analysis due to insufficient data.

The latest population statistics and industry data for each state were collected from the United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, respectively.

The States with the Most Essential Workers

10. Oklahoma

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 9.58% 
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 3.96 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance 

Oklahoma is the state with the tenth-largest share of essential employees in the country. What’s more, one of its cities, Mustang, Oklahoma, was recently identified as one of the top 10 nationwide, with nearly 17 percent of citizens foregoing shelter-in-place for the benefit of their communities.

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9. Connecticut

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 9.59%
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses 
  • Population (2019): 3.57 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

Nearly one in 10 citizens in the Constitution State are working on the frontline during this financial and public health crisis; with most of those workers performing services in healthcare and social assistance. These medical professionals are desperately needed as Connecticut currently has the third-highest death rate in the United States according to case reporting aggregated by Johns Hopkins. As of the time of writing, the state is facing 78 fatalities for every 100,000 residents.

8. Vermont

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 9.67% 
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 623,989
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

Like Connecticut, Vermont is located in the cluster of New England states with high percentages of employees working in fundamental industries. In fact, four of the six states in this region are in the top 10 in the U.S. for essential work. With healthcare as the top industry in the state, Vermont’s frontline workers are likely to be busy for months to come. 

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7. South Dakota

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 9.79%
  • Most common essential job: Registered nurses
  • Population (2019): 884,659
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance 

As one of only a handful of states with a population below a million inhabitants, the Mount Rushmore State is an exemplary case of a pattern that has emerged in our top 10. These states with the highest percentages of drivers employed in imperative industries also have some of the lowest populations in America. Eight of the top 10 fall in the bottom 15 states ranked by population; with four of the five lowest population states in the country falling on this list of the states with the most essential workers.

6. Hawaii

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 9.91%
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 1.42 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Accommodation and food services

Hawaii’s share of frontline employees exceeds the national average by over 27 percent. This statistic may be counterintuitive given that the state’s economy is driven primarily by tourism. That said, according to the Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, the military accounts for more than 100,000 jobs, all of which are essential.

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5. West Virginia

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 10.14%
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 1.79 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

Given that The Mountain State is considered one of America’s hubs for chemicals, biotech, and energy, it may come as a surprise to find it high on this list. Yet, West Virginia is home to the fifth-highest proportion of essential workers in the country, with more than one essential worker for every 10 job-holders.

4. North Dakota

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 11.20%
  • Most common essential job: Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
  • Population (2019): 762,062
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

North Dakota’s share of essential workers is 44 percent higher than the national average. As the producer of nearly half the nation’s spring wheat, among other grains and legumes, the Peace Garden State might be best known for its agriculture. Yet this northerly neighbor of South Dakota (ranking 7th on this list) also has a considerable proportion of essential workers in health care and transportation.

3. Maine

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 11.20%
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 1.34 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

Ranking third in the nation for its share of essential workers is Maine, with a workforce of more than one in ten employed in an essential job. As with most of the states on this list, health care and social assistance is the highest-employed industry statewide. In fact, health care is one of the five fastest-growing industries in Maine, having increased employment by 93 percent since 1990 according to the Center for Workforce Research and Information of Maine.

2. Rhode Island

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 11.87%
  • Most common essential job: Registered Nurses
  • Population (2019): 1.06 million
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Health care and social assistance

Rhode Island has the second-highest proportion of essential workers in the nation, with a share of essential workers exceeding the national average by 53 percent. Little wonder: not only is Rhode Island’s health care industry the highest-employed statewide, but also, it is widely considered among the best in the nation for both quality and access.

1. Wyoming

  • Share of drivers with essential jobs: 12.02%
  • Most common essential job: Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers
  • Population (2019): 578,759
  • Major industry with the highest employment statewide: Accommodation and food services

The state with the most essential workers is Wyoming, according to Insurify. Although the Accommodation and Food Services industry has the highest rate of employment in Wyoming, this state is home to over one and a half times more essential workers than the national average. Wyoming may be America’s least populous state, but it has the highest proportion of essential workers of any other.

 

If you have questions or comments about this article, please contact insights@insurify.com.

Updated May 28, 2020

Insurify’s team of data scientists and content specialists presents Insurify Insights, a series of automotive, home, and health studies focusing on the topics that impact us all. Through expert analysis of over 2.5 million car insurance applications and an array of top data sources, the Insurify Insights team produces new data-driven articles, trend analyses, regional superlatives, and national rankings every week. See Insurify Insights as featured in Forbes, Fox News, USA Today, NPR, and more.