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Who Should Work from Home during a Pandemic? The Wage-Infection Trade-off

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  • Sangmin Aum
  • Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee
  • Yongseok Shin

Abstract

Shutting down the workplace is an effective means of reducing contagion, but can incur large economic losses. We construct an exposure index, which measures infection risks across occupations, and a work-from-home index, which gauges the ease with which a job can be performed remotely across both industries and occupations. Because the two indices are negatively correlated but distinct, the economic costs of containing a pandemic can be minimized by only sending home those jobs that are highly exposed but easy to perform from home. Compared to a lockdown of all non-essential jobs, the optimal policy attains the same reduction in aggregate exposure (32 percent) with one-third fewer workers sent home (24 vs. 36 percent) and with only half the loss in aggregate wages (15 vs. 30 percent). A move from the lockdown to the optimal policy reduces the exposure of low-wage workers the most and the wage loss of the high-wage workers the most, although everyone's wage losses become smaller. A constrained optimal policy under which health workers cannot be sent home still achieves the same exposure reduction with a one-third smaller loss in aggregate wages (19 vs. 30 percent).

Suggested Citation

  • Sangmin Aum & Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee & Yongseok Shin, 2020. "Who Should Work from Home during a Pandemic? The Wage-Infection Trade-off," NBER Working Papers 27908, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:27908
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    Cited by:

    1. Aum, Sangmin & Lee, Sang Yoon (Tim) & Shin, Yongseok, 2021. "Inequality of fear and self-quarantine: Is there a trade-off between GDP and public health?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 194(C).
    2. Sang Yoon (Tim) Lee & Minsung Park & Yongseok Shin, 2021. "Hit Harder, Recover Slower? Unequal Employment Effects of the Covid-19 Shock," NBER Working Papers 28354, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. L'aszl'o Czaller & GergH{o} T'oth & Bal'azs Lengyel, 2021. "Vaccine allocation to blue-collar workers," Papers 2104.04639, arXiv.org.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure

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