Last week, Comptroller Scott Stringer released a demographic profile on the city’s essential workers. The report tells the story of who they are, where they live, how they get to work and what their needs are.
“We need to make sure the people providing critical services are also being protected,” Stringer said in a phone interview. “They’re putting their lives and health at risk to help the greater health of the city.”
According to the report, 63 percent of all frontline workers in the city are women, including 81 percent of workers in social services and 74 percent in the health care industry. Women make up 53 percent of building cleaning service work and 42 percent of grocery, convenience and drug stores.
People of color make up 75 percent of the frontline workforce, including 82 percent of cleaning services employees. Forty-one percent of public transit employees are black, and 60 percent of building cleaning workers identify as Hispanic.
The report also found that 53 percent of frontline workers are foreign-born, including 70 percent of building cleaning workers, 53 percent of health care employees and 53 percent of food and drug stores. Non-citizens make up an average of 19 percent of that workforce.
Approximately 84 percent of essential workers live within New York City. Brooklyn is home to the largest share of those workers at 28 percent, according to the report. Queens is second with 22 percent.
On the neighborhood level, more than 20,000 people in that workforce live in 11 specific communities, including Canarsie and Flatlands, Jamaica and Hollis, Queens Village and Cambria Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood, and Castle Hill and Parkchester in the Bronx.
Fifty-nine percent of them are renters, including 74 percent of building cleaners and 68 percent of workers in social services.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 55 percent of the workers took the subway, bus or rail to get to work. Only 32 percent of them drove to their work sites, while another 10 percent walked or bicycled.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, however, frontline workers account for 30 percent of regular bus commuters and 20 percent of subway riders. Roughly half of them rely on public transit during off-peak hours.
The report also looked at how many of the frontline workers live in poverty, don’t have health insurance or live with children in their homes.
In addition to providing the demographic profile, Stringer also recommended nearly a dozen actions to help support the workers, such as providing free protective gear and priority COVID-19 testing, access to hotel rooms and housing for workers who don’t want to infect their family members, and hazard pay.
The comptroller also calls for guaranteeing health care to frontline workers, strengthening the safety net for independent contractors and non-citizens, and free child care.
On the transit side, he wants Metro-North and LIRR to charge a flat $2.75 fare for all trips into New York City, as well as free transfers to the subway and bus. Stringer said the city should also offer a subsidy to any worker who wants to purchase a bike or e-bike, as well as a free month of Citi Bike membership.
“The reason we put out the report is to get the discussion started sooner rather than later,” Stringer said. “We have to create a strategy on how to help them.”
The comptroller noted that there are already reports of nurses who lack necessary equipment and use garbage bags instead.
“That is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “Government has to act faster.”