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Cities With the Most Contact-Intensive Occupations

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

By David Heacock

Social distancing measures used to help fight COVID-19 hit certain businesses and occupations especially hard. “Nonessential” occupations that require a high degree of face-to-face interaction—such as cosmetologists, bartenders, and athletic trainers—have been the most vulnerable throughout the pandemic, with large swaths of workers in these fields facing reduced hours or unemployment.

On the other hand, essential workers in occupations with high levels of physical contact—for example, healthcare and logistics workers—have not experienced the same job losses, but have had to grapple with increased risk of exposure to the virus. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupation Information Network (O*NET), more than half of U.S. jobs require very close (near touching) or moderately close (at arm’s length) contact with others while at work. And while much of the economy has gone virtual, new data from the BLS shows that only about 20% of workers are currently teleworking because of the pandemic.

Despite an increasing number of industries transitioning online, jobs that depend on close proximity to others are generally not suitable for teleworking. Over 86% of healthcare practitioners and health care support workers are required to be in close contact with others. While telehealth services have increased dramatically during the pandemic, most healthcare workers have no other option but to work in an in-person setting. Other occupational groups requiring similar levels of close contact include food preparation and serving, personal care, and protective service. At the opposite end of the spectrum, less than a quarter of workers in legal, computer, math, business, finance, architecture and engineering occupations work in close contact.

The share of workers in contact-intensive occupations varies geographically due to local industry makeup. To find the areas with the most contact-intensive occupations, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed the latest data from the BLS and O*NET to create a composite index based on the share of employment in different occupations and O*NET’s occupation-specific physical proximity scores. Researchers also calculated the percentage of workers in very close or moderately close contact with others, the percentage of workers in healthcare occupations, the percentage of workers in food preparation and serving jobs, and the median annual wage.

At the state level, Mississippi and South Carolina rank highest according to the composite index. About 60% of workers in Mississippi and 58% in South Carolina work in very close or moderately close contact with others. In general, states with higher concentrations of healthcare workers or higher concentrations of food preparation and serving jobs score highly on the index.

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At the local level, similar patterns also hold true. To find the metropolitan areas with the most contact-intensive occupations, Filterbuy used the same methodology, but only included locations with at least 100,000 people. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

Here are the metros with the most contact-intensive occupations.

Large Metros With the Most Contact-Intensive Occupations

  1. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Birmingham-Hoover, AL

    • Composite index: 91.7
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.0%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 35.1%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 11.6%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 8.3%
    • Median annual wage: $39,530
  2. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

    • Composite index: 92.3
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 20.8%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 34.2%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 10.0%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 8.4%
    • Median annual wage: $41,660
  3. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

    • Composite index: 92.3
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.5%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 32.1%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 12.8%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 6.2%
    • Median annual wage: $52,020
  4. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

    • Composite index: 93.1
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 20.9%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 33.5%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 10.8%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 7.1%
    • Median annual wage: $44,840
  5. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

    • Composite index: 93.1
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.6%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 33.1%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 13.4%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 6.6%
    • Median annual wage: $43,380
  6. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    St. Louis, MO-IL

    • Composite index: 93.4
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.2%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 33.3%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 12.0%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 8.4%
    • Median annual wage: $42,060
  7. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Oklahoma City, OK

    • Composite index: 93.7
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 21.8%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 34.9%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 10.4%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 10.0%
    • Median annual wage: $39,080
  8. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Cleveland-Elyria, OH

    • Composite index: 93.8
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 21.9%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 33.8%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 11.9%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 7.4%
    • Median annual wage: $42,740
  9. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Providence-Warwick, RI-MA

    • Composite index: 94.0
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.8%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 34.5%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 12.2%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 8.6%
    • Median annual wage: $46,000
  10. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

    • Composite index: 94.4
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 23.1%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 36.6%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 11.2%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 9.0%
    • Median annual wage: $39,630
  11. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX

    • Composite index: 94.7
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 23.3%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 35.0%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 11.6%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 10.0%
    • Median annual wage: $37,920
  12. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

    • Composite index: 94.8
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 22.7%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 32.6%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 13.5%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 6.9%
    • Median annual wage: $46,500
  13. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

    • Composite index: 96.9
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 23.3%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 37.9%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 8.7%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 12.7%
    • Median annual wage: $37,690
  14. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Pittsburgh, PA

    • Composite index: 97.1
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 23.2%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 33.2%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 13.6%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 7.7%
    • Median annual wage: $43,200
  15. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

    Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL

    • Composite index: 97.1
    • Percentage of workers in very close contact with others: 21.4%
    • Percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others: 35.2%
    • Percentage of workers in healthcare occupations: 9.6%
    • Percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related: 8.7%
    • Median annual wage: $38,690

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The metropolitan areas with the most contact-intensive occupations are scattered across the U.S. and include areas with large hospitals and places with sizable restaurant industries. The Miami metro area, home to the large Jackson Memorial Hospital, ranks first among large metros with the most contact-intensive occupations. In the Las Vegas metro area, which depends heavily on the hospitality industry, over 61% of workers work in very close or moderately close contact with others. In comparison, 55.9% of workers nationally fall into this category.

The small and midsize metros with the most contact-intensive occupations include a number of tourist destinations and tend to have high shares of workers in food and hospitality. Median annual wages vary in these metros, ranging from $26,000 to $46,000. The national median annual wage is about $42,000.

To find the metropolitan areas with the most contact-intensive occupations, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed the latest data from the Occupation Information Network (O*NET) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 Occupational Employment Survey. Researchers ranked metros according to a composite index measuring the level of employment in contact-intensive jobs. Specifically, employment shares by occupation were multiplied by O*NET’s physical proximity scores, which measure to what extent a job requires the worker to perform job tasks in close physical proximity to other people. These values were then summed and used to create the composite index.

Researchers also calculated the percentage of workers in very close contact with others (near touching), the percentage of workers in moderately close contact with others (at arm’s length), the percentage of workers in healthcare occupations, the percentage of workers in food preparation and serving related occupations, and the median annual wage. Out of all occupations, healthcare and food preparation occupations have the highest percentage of workers who work in moderately or very close contact with others.

To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size: