Brief Food Service and Preparation Workers and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Anuj Gangopadhyaya, Elaine Waxman
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Few occupations have experienced the negative effects of containment more abruptly and dramatically than food service and preparation workers – from waiters and bartenders to dishwashers and cooks – who are already economically disadvantaged by their low earnings and lack of health insurance coverage. In this brief we assess the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of adult food preparation and food service occupations and provide state-level estimates of their numbers and uninsured rates before the outbreak. We estimate that there were 7.5 million workers in these professions in 2017, and they make up a considerable share of the private workforce in states dependent on tourism. We find that food preparation and serving workers have low annual earnings and nearly a quarter were uninsured in 2017 – although uninsured rates varied considerably across states. Uninsured rates were much lower in states that had implemented Medicaid expansion under the ACA by 2017 (18 percent uninsured) relative to nonexpansion states (33 percent) and states that had not yet implemented their expansions (27 percent). While ongoing bills in Congress take several steps toward aiding these workers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, current policies fall short of what is necessary to provide for the wellbeing of these workers and containing the spread of the virus.

Research Areas Health and health care Aging and retirement Families Social safety net
Tags COVID-19 From Safety Net to Solid Ground Families with low incomes
Policy Centers Health Policy Center