National Institute on Aging

Racial Disparities in Working From Home Before and After the Pandemic

The number of home-based workers increased across all races and ethnic groups — especially among high-income workers — between 2019 and 2021, a time when working from home was encouraged because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that while White home-based workers more than doubled their numbers and remained the largest single group in the home-based workforce, the number of Black or African American working from home also grew substantially during this time period.

Home-based work has not always been associated with information technology. Prior to the widespread availability of home computers and internet access, home-based work was largely associated with agricultural activity such as farming and ranching. The decline of family farming led to sharp decreases in the number of home-based workers between 1960 and 1980, but by 1990 the trend reversed as computers and internet access became more common.

In 2005, about 3.6 percent of workers worked the majority of the week at home, rising to 4.3 percent in 2010. In 2019, about 9 million people in the United States primarily worked from home. They accounted for 5.7 percent of the total workforce. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2021, 17.9 percent of workers — 27.6 million people — worked from home.

In 2019, Whites were 80.5 percent of all people who worked from home. Blacks made up 7.8 percent of all home-based workers. By 2021, Whites were 66.8 percent of all home-based workers and Blacks made up 9.5 percent of this group.

Home-based workers tended to be highly educated. In 2021, 65.2 percent of all home workers had at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 2.5 percent of those workers with less than a high school degree worked from home. Blacks are less likely than Whites to be college educated.

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