One-Third of Idaho Jobs Can Be Performed by Teleworking

-Data suggests jobs performed at home pay more-

With social distancing measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, many workers are transitioning to working from home. One in three Idaho jobs are fully suited for telework. The rest are most vulnerable to unemployment during a pandemic. As Idaho’s economy rapidly adapts to remote work, access to high-speed broadband – particularly in the more rural parts of the state – is critical.

The Rise of Teleworking

The full extent of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still to be determined, but early signs show the impact on jobs to be significant. As of May 2, 2020, the state of Idaho recorded a record high 125,306 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the seven weeks of the COVID-19 state of emergency. Nationally, the economy lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, bumping the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent.

Along with the unprecedented job losses is a rapid trend towards remote work. To comply with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, employees who can are increasingly being allowed to work from home. Latest trends in online job postings show that while online job postings overall have fallen in recent months, postings specifically labeled as work-from-home are on the rise. The number of new Idaho work-from-home job postings jumped 49 percent from February to March 2020 and 2.4 percent from March to April. In contrast, Idaho job postings overall declined nearly 40 percent from March to April alone.

The rising trend of telework prompts a fundamental question about the Idaho economy – how many of Idaho’s jobs can be performed from home?

A third of Idaho jobs can be performed fully from home

To answer this question on a national scale, Dingel and Neiman (2020) developed a system to classify the feasibility of working at home for all occupations based on two Occupational Information Network (O*NET) surveys covering “work context” and “generalized work activities.” Under this classification system, all computer and mathematical occupations, for instance, are considered suited to teleworking, while most production occupations are not.

Merging this classification with occupational employment counts for Idaho, we determine that approximately 230,500 Idaho jobs can plausibly be performed at home. This amounts to about 34 percent of all classifiable jobs, lower than the 37 percent share nationwide. The District of Columbia has by far the largest share of jobs – 61 percent – that can be done from home. Idaho ranks 35th in the nation for its share of jobs that can be done from home.

The scope for working from home tends to vary across the state with metro areas having a higher share of jobs suitable to teleworking than the non-metro areas.

The data also suggests jobs that can be performed at home tend to pay more – the 34 percent of Idaho jobs that can be performed from home account for about 42 percent of all wages. The average wage of these telework jobs is $52,860 compared with $43,480 for all jobs in the state.

Jobs suited to teleworking have been less affected by the pandemic

Examining job losses during the pandemic by occupation group support the notion that losses tend to be minimal for jobs that can be performed from home. Food preparation jobs have recorded the largest number of total claims since March 15 – 16,590 initial claims. This amounts to a job loss estimate of about 1 in 4 (25 percent) of food preparation jobs which are not considered suited for telework. In contrast, computer and mathematical occupations, which can all be performed from home, have seen a job loss impact of only 4 percent. In terms of impact, the occupational group hardest hit by the pandemic is personal care and service due to statewide shut down of nail and hair salons. About 4,750 initial claims have been filed in this occupation since March 15, which amounts to about 38 percent of total covered employment in Idaho. About 20 percent of jobs within this occupation group are able to work from home.

Teleworking is poised to be the new normal post-pandemic

As the pandemic rapidly sweeps away jobs that cannot be done from home, the unemployed will take jobs where they are available – likely ones that allow them to work from home. But being able to telework requires, among other things, a reliable internet connection, leading to a separate infrastructural concern of access to broadband. According to the latest broadband deployment report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, about 94 percent of the U.S. population has advanced broadband internet access, defined as internet access with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second with upload speeds of 3 mbps. In comparison, only 85 percent of the Idaho population has broadband access. This share drops to 58 percent in rural areas of the state.

The coronavirus has, for better or worse, accelerated the trend towards teleworking. Even after most temporary restrictions on businesses have been lifted, it is likely that many jobs will remain remote, changing the nature of work more permanently. As the economy adapts to remote work, access to high-speed broadband – particularly in the more rural parts of the state – becomes most critical.

Dingel, J and B Neiman (2020), “How Many Jobs Can be Done at Home?” Covid Economics: Vetted and Real-Time Papers 1: 16-24., regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
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