COVID-19 illness shrank US labor force by 500,000, study finds

Illness caused by COVID-19 has reduced the U.S. labor force participation rate by 0.2 percentage points, or by about 500,000 workers, through June 2022, according to a study released Sept. 12.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, was written by Gopi Shah Goda, PhD, with the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford (Calif.) University, and Evan Soltas, a PhD student in economics at the Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The authors found that an additional 500,000 people would be working or looking for work nationwide if they had not fallen ill with COVID-19.

"If we stay where we are with COVID infection rates going forward, we expect that 500,000-person loss to persist until either exposure goes down or severity goes down," Mr. Soltas told The Wall Street Journal. That assumes that some of the people with COVID-19 illnesses return to their jobs.

The study is based on Census Bureau data. According to The Wall Street Journal, the authors considered a representative population of more than 300,000 workers followed over more than a year in the Census Bureau's monthly household survey. The study covered January 2010 to June 2022. 

The authors evaluated health-related absences as a proxy for probable COVID-19 illness. They found that workers with weeklong COVID-19 work absences are 7 percentage points less likely to be in the U.S. labor force one year later than workers who do not miss a week of work for health reasons.

"Our estimates suggest COVID-19 illnesses have reduced the U.S. labor force by approximately 500,000 people (0.2 percent of adults) and imply an average forgone earnings per COVID-19 absence of at least $9,000, about 90 percent of which reflects lost labor supply beyond the initial absence week," the authors wrote. 

Read the full study here

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