Exploring the Community Impact of the Essential vs. Non-Essential Industry Divide

Published on May 21, 2020

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

Exploring the Community Impact of the Essential vs. Non-Essential Industry Divide


When COVID-19 began to ravage the US economy in mid-March, unemployment skyrocketed. Many jobs not considered “essential” to the economy, and without remote capabilities, were suddenly erased. And while the unemployment figures across the country are a testament to the virus’s sweeping, all-inclusive damage, the community impact on individual cities and regions remains unique.

The number of essential jobs in a community is directly related to the number of businesses that are still deemed “essential.” In areas with a high percentage of businesses that are still operating, such as farming communities, there is a high percentage of functioning jobs.      


The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) set out guidelines to help state governments determine the essential industries in their domain. To get a sense of how restrictions have impacted communities differently, we created a list of essential and non-essential industries by 3- and 6-digit NAICS code. Below we examine metropolitan areas, organized by population size, with the highest percentages of essential and non-essential jobs. 

It’s important to note that while a “non-essential” label implies a non-functioning job position, this is not always the case. The charts below represent jobs that have been determined essential based on CISA industry guidelines; a high share of non-essential jobs, however, does not necessarily indicate a high share of unemployment. 

Explore the data here.

Want to learn more about essential jobs in your community? We can help! 


Farming Communities in California Have Highest Essential Job Share

Farming and crop production, two industries that have been declared essential, are key players in some of California’s largest metros. For example, Bakersfield and Stockton top the list below, as farm labor contractor and crew leader jobs saturate their labor forces. Local and federal government jobs and various professions within the hospital industry also contribute to Bakersfield’s high essential jobs percentage. 

The community impact on other metros of similar size, however, is not so forgiving. Tourism-dependent areas such as Las Vegas, Orlando, and Myrtle Beach are being hit hard, with over half of their respective workforces deemed non-essential. Without the usual crowds of people wandering in and out of stores, amusement parks, beaches, and casinos, not only is revenue at an all-time low, but also millions of hospitality workers are now jobless. 

Inconsistent Manufacturing Standards and the Impact on the Community

One ambiguous industry that seems to affect both essential and non-essential percentages in more densely populated communities is manufacturing. Despite the CISA guidelines that left the manufacturing industry largely off the essential list, state orders and directives across the country vary widely in which manufacturing operations they actually deemed non-essential. Food manufacturing, for example, is a thriving industry in many communities as grocery stores and other food services are considered essential. As a result of this inconsistency, metros with large manufacturing bases likely reflect a larger percentage of non-essential workers than what is seen on the ground. 


Community Impact of COVID-19 on College Towns

The mid- and small-sized metros with the highest share of non-essential jobs are dominated by college towns. One such metro is Ithaca, NY, where nearly 30K students attend Cornell and Ithaca College. While the student exodus from on-campus living has surely rendered many on-campus jobs unnecessary, their absence has an impact on Ithaca’s community as a whole. Restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality businesses that depend on revenue from students and their families have come to a stand-still.  

Communities with a population under 100K share the same problem. Interestingly, Emsi’s hometown of Moscow, ID is one of the top ten cities with a high share of non-essential jobs, as is Pullman, WA, a town just eight miles to the west. Both cities rely heavily on students from the University of Idaho and Washington State University, respectively, to bring money into their economies. You can read more about the impact that COVID-19 is having on college towns in this recent analysis of Emsi data in the Wall Street Journal. 



Military Jobs Remain Essential

On the other end of mid-size communities, Hanford, CA, and Jacksonville, NC are showing huge shares of essential jobs–over 70%. Using data from Developer, our labor market analytics software for communities, we found that Hanford is home to thousands of local, state, and federal government jobs, including the US Department of the Navy, a top employer in the area. Jacksonville has a similar story: the US Marine Corps has both a recruiting office and a base there. 

Military jobs, essential to the economy no matter the circumstances, have an even larger impact on communities with populations under 100K. For example, Hinesville, GA, is a recruitment site for the Army National Guard, and an army base is located in Fort Stewart, not 4 miles from Hinesville. Fort Leonard Wood is a military base in the Missouri Ozarks, while Mountain Home, ID, houses an Air Force Base.

Explore this data in the interactive map below:

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If you would like to take a closer look at the essential and non-essential jobs difference for your community, please contact us by filling out the form below!