The State of Essential Jobs

On March 19, California did something that even weeks prior would have seemed out of a science fiction novel: it ordered all of the state’s nearly 40 million residents to shelter in place. As the coronavirus spread, residents were told to leave their homes only for necessities like groceries and walks for exercise, and to maintain a 6-foot distance from anyone they didn’t live with. Less than a month later, almost every state in the country has followed suit. 

As many businesses closed up shop, it immediately became clear that certain workers and services were essential for keeping people healthy and safe. Medical workers and grocery store employees are obviously at the top of the list — we’ll always need people to treat the sick and a way to get food. But as we settle into a world where only “essential” workers continue to leave the house to do their jobs, our very sense of what constitutes an essential job has changed. It turns out that there are other, perhaps less obvious, essential jobs that we now need to add to the list. 

With that in mind, we dug into job postings and searches for some of the most important work being done in the U.S. right now. We looked at how those job postings and searches have increased in the last year (from April 2019 to April 2020), as well as the effects from coronavirus (from March 13 to April 13). 

Grocery store workers

As concern about the disease grew and movement around cities became more restricted, grocery stores in many places faced an onslaught of demand that left shelves bare. Many stores cut their operating hours so workers would have enough time to restock shelves for anxious shoppers.

Grocery stores that have been praised for their reaction to the crisis, such as Texas’s HEB, had been planning ahead for months. And some of the largest grocery retailers announced the addition of thousands of new jobs that have led to huge hiring booms, including:

  • Walmart – 150,000
  • Amazon – 100,000
  • Dollar General – 50,000
  • CVS – 50,000
  • Albertson’s – 30,000 

In this vital and booming sector, grocery store jobs as a share of all postings grew by 35% over the one-month period we studied.  And job seekers reacted as well — searches for grocery jobs as a share of all searches increased by over 200% during the same time period.

Pharmacists and pharmacist techs

Besides trips to the grocery store, the other major outing people in the U.S. are taking right now is to the pharmacy. As people prepared for sheltering in place and possible illness, many rushed to fill prescriptions and stock up on other over-the-counter medications. 

Pharmacy job postings as a share of all postings have increased by 31% in the last year, with the share of pharmacy job postings up by 27% from March 13 to April 13. Job seekers’ interest piqued during the same time period — searches for pharmacy jobs as a share of all searches increased by 38%.

Essential jobs: pharmacy workers


Nurses have been in high demand since before COVID-19 was even on our radar, but the virus pushed things to a new level — from March 13 to April 13, job postings for nurses as a share…

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