SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A new study shows employees who have been considered essential through coronavirus-related shutdowns are paid less than workers who are deemed non-essential.
Nationwide, essential employees earn an average of 18.2 percent less than employees in other industries, according to the study based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In some states, the difference between essential workers and other employees is closer to 10 percent.
Pay for essential workers ranges widely from state to state. Nevada ranks number one with their essential workers making 7.5 percent below the state’s average occupation while essential workers in Washington D.C. make 47 percent below the average salary.
Still, in every single state, the average salary for essential workers is far below the state’s average.
But who is considered an essential worker? Mainly, anyone in a position who worked through shelter-in-place mandates and kept their businesses open.
“In particular, we looked at the average salaries of retail salespersons, postal service mail carriers, light truck drivers, cashiers, janitors, and cleaners,” communications specialist for the study Madison Haggin said. “We then compared those averages with each state’s overall average salary.”
The data shows the average salary of essential workers nationwide is just $32,474.
Georgia falls to number 34 for essential worker salaries. The study shows that the average salary of essential workers in Georgia is $29,430, while the average salary for all other occupations in the state is $36,930.
In South Carolina, essential employees are earning 17.3 percent less than the state’s average income of $34,690.
Haggin believes the reason why employees who are deemed essential during the pandemic but aren’t earning as much is clear.
“We spend a lot of time focusing on paying occupations that may have different levels of experience or education or what we value more like science or tech or healthcare,” Haggin said.
“So when we think of the people who are running these stores, a lot of the time they’re just not getting paid as much because we haven’t, as a society, viewed them as essential.
“And now that we’re experiencing the impacts of this virus, I think our mindsets are turning and we’re starting to realize that these people are truly essential to us and they have to get these goods to us whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or not.”
Haggin says the pay discrepancy runs deeper than just what employees are earning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Across our country, there’s an overall wage gap,” she said. “In no state do essential workers make more than the average occupation.
“There are states that need to take a hard look at how they’re paying these workers and what they can do to improve that for them.”
Haggin says they will revisit the study each year to see if there will be any change in salaries for occupations that are deemed essential by each state.
“Are we putting more value on them? Are we able to pay them more now that we’ve been able to show how essential they are and how integral they are to our society?” she questioned. “Or is it going to stay the same?”