Who Are Hawaiʻi’s Frontline Workers?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 120,000 Hawaiʻi workers, or about one-fifth of the workforce, were employed in six broad industries that are now on the frontline of the response, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

These essential workers include grocery and drug store clerks, nurses, child care workers, building cleaners, postal workers, and truck and bus drivers. Healthcare workers make up nearly half (47 percent) of frontline industry workers in Hawaiʻi, followed by grocery, convenience and drug store workers (27 percent). Child care and social services workers are one-tenth of Hawaiʻi’s frontline workers.

Women are nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Hawaiʻi’s frontline workers, while they are a little less than half (48 percent) of the overall workforce. Women are especially over-represented in the frontline industries of child care and social services (78 percent) and healthcare (74 percent). Women are also the majority (53 percent) of Hawaiʻi workers in the grocery, convenience and drug store industry.

Many of Hawaiʻi’s frontline workers have caregiving responsibilities at home. About 3 in 10 (31 percent) have keiki at home. The same proportion (31 percent) share their home with kupuna, which is nearly twice the national average (16 percent).

Immigrants make up nearly one quarter (24 percent) of Hawaiʻi’s frontline workers, which is higher than the national average of 17 percent. Immigrants are especially concentrated in building cleaning services, where they make up 37 percent of workers.

The table below shows the number of workers in six groups of frontline industries and the percent shares of different demographics of the workforce in each of these industry groups.

frontline workers

The pandemic has shown us how crucial frontline industry workers are to Hawaiʻi’s economy. These workers are providing essential medical, keiki and kupuna care to our state. Without them, the rest of the us would not be able to buy food, medicine and other essentials. Sadly, many of these workers are underpaid and underprotected.

With this newfound understanding of the importance of frontline workers, our state’s leaders should do all they can to ensure that these hardworking Hawaiʻi residents have all that they need to do their jobs and care for their own families. That includes personal protective equipment and other workplace protections, living wages and benefits, including paid sick and family leave, and affordable child care. Hawaiʻi’s frontline workers deserve it.