America’s Healthiest Workers

Before March of 2020, health was always something we thought to feel grateful for once in a while or something we missed once it was gone, but in the wake of COVID-19, health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We’re looking at its impact from every angle: on the economy, on education, and on our bodies. We’re also thinking more about health demographics and the ways in which various groups could be put more or less at risk in health crises.

And, as it turns out, an individual’s industry is one such demographic. We took a look at the most recently available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Interview Survey which industries are the most and least healthy, which have improved their health the most in recent years, and which are best covered in regards to health insurance. If health has become a new interest in your life, or if you’re curious to see how your industry could play a role in your physical well-being, continue reading.

Industry Health Ratings

Most and Least Healthy Industries

Our study began with a present-day look into the most and least healthy industries. Before diving into which exactly these were, it’s important to note two things: First, the breadth of industries was limited to the top 30 most populous in the U.S., or our biggest industries in terms of numbers of workers, and second, each worker’s health was self-reported. Respondents describing their own health as “very good” or “excellent” most often came from the professional, scientific, and technical services. These workers are likely highly educated and higher paid, which often correlate with better health. Educational workers were also very likely to enjoy good health. Perhaps this is because teaching positions often require standing (while the sedentary nature of other jobs has been likened to smoking), while other school staff may be enjoying the increasingly healthy lunches that schools provide.

What we now often call “essential workers,” like nursing and residential care employees, were, unfortunately, the least healthy industry surveyed. Just 24.4% of this group described themselves as being in good health. Especially during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, this group’s health became exceedingly important to consider. At the time of writing this article, health care workers falling ill to the coronavirus has become a major concern, creating panic for both those in and outside of the industry.

Most Improved Industries

Even though the postal service didn’t have the best self-reported health overall, they did have the most improved health between years. That said, they are currently facing their own particular set of health problems with the pandemic, as the nature of their “essential work” has precluded them from staying home and practicing social distancing. Unfortunately, many of these workers have fallen sick as a result, and we may see a large drop-off in these health improvement statistics in the years to come. On the other end of the spectrum, repair and maintenance workers experienced the most dramatically worsened health since 2017. Those in this industry ranked their health as 13.9% worse than it had been previously. Though there’s no clear indication as to why this may be, their jump in poor health was certainly significant.

Industries Calling in Sick

Our study next took a turn to look at which industries took the most and the fewest sick days. It is important, however, to mention that workers across all industries took very few sick days. On average, employed respondents missed just 2.6 days of work over the course of an entire year for anything health-related. Though this may indicate a healthy workforce, it also likely indicates a reluctance to use a sick day even when feeling ill. Knowing what we now know about social distancing, it’s important to keep yourself and your co-workers safe by staying home if you’re symptomatic of something contagious.

Postal service workers used more sick days – 7.4 last year – than any other industry studied. Recalling that these workers improved their health during this same time frame, it begs the question, was leaning on more sick days helping these employees to heal? That said, wholesalers and manufacturers, who were previously shown to be one of the healthiest industries – were taking the fewest sick days each year. Some industries took it a step further and took absolutely zero sick days each year. Primarily, this included the accommodation and food businesses, both of which are notorious for putting the customer first. Many of these types of hospitality venues also even stay open for business on public holidays. After all, they weren’t listed among the healthiest industries, just the one that took the least time off for sickness.

Industry Insurance Rates

Industries With the Highest and Lowest Rates of Insurance Coverage

Industries across the board had high rates of insured persons, which is expected as this sample of participants is completely employed, and many likely received health insurance benefits from their full-time employers. That said, the comparison still yielded interesting discrepancies between industries. For instance, workers in the repair and maintenance industries, as well as the food services industry, were the least likely to have health insurance. Prior to March of 2020, the restaurant industry provided 15.1 million jobs in the U.S. alone. Though waitstaff and kitchen can often earn successful livings, their positions are often part-time and not typically inclusive of health care benefits. The repair and maintenance industry may be suffering from a similar fate. The BLS defines this category of workers as anybody who “restores machinery, equipment, and other products to working order.” Oftentimes, these workers are contractors hired on a per-project basis, also precluding them from full-time health care benefits. Government workers, or those in public administration, were the most likely to be fully covered. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program likely covers these workers. Hospital workers were the next best insured – perhaps it’s difficult to ignore the necessity of health care while working in such an environment.

Further Industry Health

The data certainly revealed a tendency for some industries to feel healthier than others. It also showed some less healthy industries making steady improvements. That said, not all of those in the poorest health were making the necessary strides. While postal workers saw the greatest improvements, they were still requiring the sickest days, while those in the hospitality industries weren’t using sick days at all, in spite of their relatively poor health. If it’s not already evident, our passion is the well-being of businesses and their workers. ZenBusiness helps businesses remain vibrant and healthy every single day. Our expert staff and digital tools are available around the clock for startups and large companies to organize the logistical, legal, and accounting aspects of their books. If you need help with any of these things, let ZenBusiness take it off your plate.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from the IPUMS-NHIS database. Data were queried on April 9, 2020. We limited data to the most recent years available. Data reflects 2017 and 2018. We then collected additional variables, including occupation, industry, self-reported health status, and insurance coverage. We analyzed data using the provided person-level sample weight from IPUMS. The Current Population Survey uses a complex sampling of respondents and weights to produce nationally representative statistics. Data are comprised entirely of sample data. Because the subpopulation of some occupations or industries is small, it is possible that additional data could have been collected to provide a more accurate look at this population. Industries were limited to the top 30 results by weighted population in 2018. No statistical testing was performed. As such, the content on this page is exploratory.

Fair Use Statement

Recent events have shown us how connected we really are to all other industries, regardless of the one we actually work in. If you know someone who may be interested in the findings of this study, you are welcome to share the data. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page.

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