The Razor's Edge of “Essential” Labor in Food and Agriculture

November 6, 2020 - Trey Malone, K. <>, <>

Malone T, Schaefer KA, Wu F (2020). The Razor’s Edge of “Essential” Labor in Food and Agriculture. Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy


In the midst of a pandemic, falling on one side or the other of the cruel “razor's edge” of the “essential” and “nonessential” labor distinction can mean the difference between infection versus safety and, on the other hand, continued earnings versus unemployment. This article synthesizes relevant research from a variety of disciplines to explore the implications of the essentiality distinction as a “second‐best” policy instrument. We identify ways to improve the equity and efficiency of the distinction as a second‐best policy tool and consider potential ways to look beyond essentialness for future economic policy responses to pandemics.



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