The COVID-19 pandemic is responsible for the largest wave of job losses since the Great Depression. The mass layoffs caused by social distancing regulations have brought new meaning to the term “essential worker.”

Today’s essential workers often hold some of the most physically demanding jobs. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one-third of workers in protective service, construction, maintenance and repair engage in physically demanding activity.

Nationally, more than 10% of all workers hold physically demanding jobs, defined here as employment where staff engage in heavy or very heavy tasks. A large portion of those physically demanding jobs are in transportation and material moving, which employs more than 12.5 million workers in the U.S. Construction occupations also account for a significant number of workers in physically demanding roles, with nearly 2.3 million of them engaging in heavy or very heavy work.

At the state level, the largest share of workers in physically demanding jobs are found in Midwestern states such as North Dakota (12.4% of total jobs) and Southern states like Mississippi (11.9% of total jobs). Conversely, the lowest share of workers in physically demanding jobs are found in Northeastern states such as Massachusetts (8.8% of total jobs) and Connecticut (9.1% of total jobs).

In St. Joseph, a city that ranks at 47 in small metros of 100,000, with 11.9% of workers doing physically demanding jobs, construction workers like Max Phillips say this is a city where you have to work hard to make money.

“I worked a lot of retail jobs, but never felt like I was getting paid my fair share. Once I got into construction, things turned around. You’ve really got to get down in the dirt to make a good living,” he said.

The jobs take a toll on his body, Phillips admitted. But he sees it as better than a low-wage work or desk job.

“It’s not easy work, but you get a sense of pride — you helped build something and made things better around here. I think people like us like that around here,” he said.

To profile cities with the largest percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs, researchers from Construction Coverage analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment and wage data were derived from 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics, while information on the physical requirements of occupations was taken from the 2018 Occupational Requirements Survey. Physical demand was measured by the strength requirements necessary to perform the duties of a given occupation.

Locations with a greater prevalence of physically demanding jobs tend to have lower overall wages. In locations where more than 10% of workers are in physically demanding jobs, the average median annual wage is slightly above $36,000. By comparison, the average median annual wage in locations where less than 10% of workers engage in physically demanding jobs is $41,000. Despite this trend, physically demanding jobs often require only a high school diploma or less. Adjusting for educational attainment, workers with physically demanding jobs actually tend to earn more than workers with similar education in different jobs.

Here are the metropolitan areas whose residents have been taking the most long-distance road trips compared to 2019.

Large metros that have been taking the most road trips

20. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 62.6%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 234,597

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 144,255

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -29.3%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

19. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 63.8%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 63,874

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 39,001

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -27.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

18. St. Louis, MO-IL

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 64.5%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 97,061

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 59,004

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -25.8%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

17. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 64.8%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 53,940

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 32,728

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -29.8%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

16. Richmond, VA

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 65.8%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 62,520

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 37,713

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -33.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 67.1%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 152,041

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 90,964

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -39.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Kansas City, MO-KS

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 71.5%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 98,526

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 57,460

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -29.3%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 73.0%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 89,116

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 51,519

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -50.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 74.6%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 134,975

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 77,311

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -28.1%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Birmingham-Hoover, AL

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 74.9%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 37,953

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 21,699

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -25.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 84.3%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 151,343

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 82,131

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -31.7%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 86.1%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 73,900

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 39,704

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -50.3%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. New Orleans-Metairie, LA

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 91.1%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 35,047

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 18,339

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -36.9%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Tucson, AZ

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 93.9%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 34,467

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 17,775

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -43.3%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 101.9%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 79,018

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 39,139

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -29.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 112.2%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 61,573

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 29,019

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -33.9%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 116.8%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 118,564

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 54,693

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -29.4%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 124.0%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 107,520

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 48,006

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -33.5%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Memphis, TN-MS-AR

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 129.8%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 75,287

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 32,760

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -35.0%

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Raleigh-Cary, NC

Percentage change in long-distance road trips from 2019: 164.6%

Average daily long-distance road trips 2020: 56,460

Average daily long-distance road trips 2019: 21,341

Percentage change in all travel from 2019: -53.5%

Methodology & detailed findings

Workers involved in many physically demanding occupations remain essential due to the necessary labor and services they perform. For example, plumbers, electricians and welders are still in demand despite the social distancing guidelines and increase in remote work for other types of occupations.

Despite many physically demanding jobs being “essential,” research suggests it may become increasingly difficult to hire for these roles. Experts project a shortage of workers in many of these jobs due to the bias toward four-year university degrees over career technical education (CTE), training that is necessary for these careers. That said, these jobs may become more appealing to people entering the workforce as further research has shown that graduates of CTE programs have a higher employment rate and are more likely to be employed in a job related to their field of study when compared to graduates of purely academic programs.

The employment and wage data used in this study are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics. Information on the physical demands of occupations is from the 2018 Occupational Requirements Survey. Specifically, researchers looked at the percentage of workers in each occupation where the strength requirement was either heavy or very heavy work.

To identify the percentage of workers in physically demanding jobs by location, strength requirement percentages were multiplied by each location’s occupation-specific employment numbers, summed, and then divided by the total employment for that location. Locations were ordered by the resulting statistic. In the event of a tie, the location with more total workers in physically demanding jobs was ranked higher.

For additional insight, researchers grouped metropolitan areas into size cohorts based on population:

Small (100,000 to 349,999)

Midsize (350,000 to 999,999)

Large (1,000,000 or more)

News-Press NOW reporter Andrew Gaug contributed to this report

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug