Working at home during a pandemic isn’t an option for about three-quarters of U.S. workers, putting them at increased risk of infection, a new study finds.

Those 108 million workers tend to be among the lowest paid and are more likely to face pandemic-related job disruptions, including layoffs, furloughs or reduced hours.

“This pandemic has really exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in American society,” said study author Marissa Baker. She’s an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Stress, anxiety and other mental health problems that can be brought on by job disruptions could persist after the economy reopens and social activities resume, she said in a university news release.

The 25% of U.S. workers (35.6 million) who can do their jobs at home are typically in high-paid sectors such as finance, administration, engineering and technology, Baker noted.

As the economy reopens, she said, these workers will continue to be less vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure and pandemic-related job disruptions but more likely to be able to care for a child at home — further widening the disparity between the top quarter of U.S. workers and others.

“The most privileged workers will have a job that can be done at home, reducing their risk of exposure, and enabling them to continue to work even as office buildings were closed,” Baker said. “Unfortunately, only a quarter of the U.S. workforce falls into this category. The fact that these are some of the highest paid workers in the U.S. is no surprise.”

The study, based on an analysis of 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, was published online June 18 in the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.