Who are the 3.4 Million People Who Work in the Nation’s Food Production Industries?

Roughly 3.4 million individuals work in food production industries, more than a third of them in animal production and processing where there have been several COVID-19 outbreaks, a new KFF analysis shows. Workers at meat and poultry plants face a higher risk of coronavirus exposure due to the close quarters of their workplaces.

The majority of workers in food production – which also include crop production, seafood, and other food manufacturing– are White and U.S. citizens, but they include disproportionate shares of lower-income, Hispanic, and noncitizen immigrant workers compared to workers overall, the analysis finds. Food production workers, and in particular Black and Hispanic workers, also are more likely to be uninsured, and so may face increased challenges accessing COVID-19-related testing and treatment services.

The new analysis, The COVID-19 Outbreak and Food Production Workers: Who is at Risk?, examines key characteristics of food production workers to provide insight into who these risks affect and the health and financial implications of the COVID-19 outbreak for these workers and their communities.

The data paint a portrait of workers who have limited ability to absorb income decreases, creating disincentives for them to miss work even if they feel ill, and who may face barriers to care due to lack of insurance and immigration-related fears. At the same time, a recent Presidential Executive Order requires meat and poultry processing plants to continue operating, even in the face of outbreaks, in order to prevent disruption in the food supply chain.

The full analysis, as well as other KFF analyses and data on the coronavirus and its implications, are available at kff.org.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.