New York’s Essential Workers Struggle with Food Insecurity

July 1, 2020 | New York

The COVID-19 crisis has brought unprecedented recognition to the millions of essential workers on whom society depends in order to function. Many of these essential workers are parents on whom children rely for providing food. Although essential workers are working as grocery workers, delivery drivers, farmworkers, and more to help people access food, many essential workers do not have enough food for themselves and their families.

According to analysis by the Center for American Progress, essential workers are more likely to need federal assistance. In 2018, more than 5.5 million essential workers (13.36%) relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at some point during the year, while only 7.8% of nonessential workers utilized SNAP.

Nationally, SNAP recipiency rates among workers also vary by race. In 2018, almost 17% of Black nonessential workers and 23.27% of Black essential workers reported receiving SNAP benefits. These rates are much higher than the rates of usage among White nonessential workers and White essential workers, 6% and 10.7% respectively. Overall, essential workers are more likely to have received SNAP benefits across all racial and ethnic demographics as compared to people working equivalent nonessential jobs.

New York City’s Frontline Workers

Although frontline workers provide for humanity’s fundamental needs, they are often not compensated appropriately for their essential work. In New York City, 8% of frontline workers live at or below the poverty line, and 24% of frontline workers live at or below twice the poverty line.

Frontline workers often lack access to healthcare coverage. 8% of New York City’s frontline workers do not have any health insurance. People employed in the building cleaning services industry comprise the highest percentage of frontline workers without healthcare coverage, 22%, followed by people working in grocery, convenience, and drug stores, of whom 15% lack healthcare coverage.

Almost half of NYC frontline workers, 48%, have children living at home. 53% of public transit workers and 53% of people working in the building cleaning services industry have children living at home, which is the largest percentage in any specific industry.

New York State’s Essential Workers

Demographics of New York State Essential Workers by Geographic Area, April 2020

Note: The Hudson Valley includes the following counties: Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster. Upstate New York includes the Capitol Region and all areas north and west of the Capitol Region, including all areas north or west of Ulster, Sullivan, and Dutchess Counties.

Women, Black people, and Latino people disproportionately serve as essential workers with respect to the New York State population. During the COVID crisis, Black and Latino households with children are more likely to be experiencing food insecurity already. We must strengthen SNAP benefits in order to help low-income families and the millions of essential workers who rely on SNAP to feed themselves and their families.