Work-at-Home Opportunities Should Be Expanded to Lower-Wage Workers

On June 27, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual American Time Use Survey results. This is a continuous survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, about how individuals age 15 and over spend their time. In keeping with a notable trend in recent years, the survey found that 22.3 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work from home. This is up from 19 percent in 2003.

Of the more than 24.7 million people who work from home, 15.5 million, or 63 percent, have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 13.5 percent of employed persons with no college are working from home.

There are basic economics at play here. CNNMoney reports that companies save an average of $11,000 per year by allowing a worker to telecommute half the time; and telecommuting full time saves workers approximately $4,000 annually in transportation and other costs. Yet some of the lower-wage earners who could benefit most from telecommuting cost savings, those without a college degree, are not realizing the same work-from-home opportunities that are afforded to higher-wage earners.

As companies turn to remote workers for all levels of jobs, from licensed professionals to customer service representatives, bookkeepers and more, there is a real potential to enrich the economic prosperity of lower-wage earners through telecommuting opportunities.

What can be done to facilitate more telecommute opportunities for workers without college degrees?

College graduates often have and use access to broad professional networks, from industry associations and alumni groups to LinkedIn, unlike workers without a college degree, who tend to engage personal social networks more frequently but are not as participatory with professional networking sites and groups. Pew Research Center’s 2016 Social Media Update reports that 77 percent of people who did not attend college use Facebook, but only 12 percent of this same group uses LinkedIn.

Compare this with the 50 percent of college graduates that use LinkedIn. This lack of professional networking and online career engagement may be hampering the ability of nondegree holders to understand the job market and access remote jobs and advancement opportunities.

There is a viable solution to closing this equity gap. Helping lower-wage earners and workers without college degrees broaden their professional networks can facilitate access to telecommuting opportunities and other jobs. These networks also provide education and information that is not widely available.

Specifically, online networking platforms focused on these groups allows workers to engage in an accessible format that can provide them with identification of remote work openings, information about companies that have positive work-at-home practices, advice about how to successfully work from home — from dealing with remote communications to technology issues — and access to other home-based workers who can share valuable tips about their successful job hunting and work-at-home experiences.

The trend in home-based job growth has a positive impact on the environment, company profits and workers’ life balance and economic prosperity. More effort is needed now to ensure that all workers and communities have access to these benefits.

Sarah Lucas is chief executive of WAHspace, a technology platform that connects companies hiring home-based workers with job seekers.

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