SSM - Population Health, Volume 16, December 2021,
Research suggests that racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 in the US are largely driven by higher rates of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 among Hispanic/Latino and Black populations. Occupational exposures play a large role in structuring risk of exposure, and essential workers are at elevated risk of COVID-19 infection. At a national-level, workers categorized as “essential” and “high-risk” are disproportionately Hispanic/Latino, but we lack analysis examining local-level racial/ethnic disparities in potential occupational exposures. Using the 2015–2019 5-year American Community Survey, we estimated disparities between the proportion of US Born Hispanic/Latino, foreign-born Hispanic/Latino, and non-Hispanic white (NHW) essential or high-risk workers in 27 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. We found that, on average, 66.3%, 69.9%, and 62.6% of US-born Hispanics, foreign-born Hispanics, and NHW, respectively, are essential workers, while 50.7%, 49.9%, 49.5% are high exposure risk workers, respectively. The median absolute difference in proportions of US born Hispanic/Latino and NHW essential workers was 4.2%, and between foreign-born Hispanic/Latino and NHW essential workers was 7.5%, but these disparities varied widely by city. High likelihood of occupational transmission may help explain disparities in COVID-19 infection and mortality for Hispanic/Latino populations, especially foreign-born, and may also help explain heterogeneity in the magnitude of these disparities, with relevance for other acute infectious respiratory illnesses spread in the workplace.