- As many as 4 million full-time equivalent workers may be sidelined from the U.S. workforce due to long COVID-19, according to an analysis published Wednesday by Katie Bach, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
- Brookings calculated the total using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for June to July, which estimated that 16 million working-age Americans had long COVID-19 at the time of the survey. Brookings then analyzed this figure using three separate estimates of how many individuals with long COVID-19 left the workforce or reduced their work hours.
- A July study in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that 22% of people with long COVID-19 were unable to work, while 45% worked reduced hours. This translates to roughly 4 million workers out due to the condition, per Brookings. The think tank computed lower estimates of 2 million and 3 million workers sidelined using data from the Minneapolis Fed and the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress, respectively.
The impact of long COVID-19 on labor force participation could be significant, even if the actual number of affected workers is lower than Brooking’s high-end estimate of 4 million. For instance, Bach wrote that even if that figure is closer to the midpoint of 3 million full-time equivalent workers, this would still represent 1.8% of the nation’s entire civilian labor force — or approximately $168 billion in lost worker earnings in one year.
Long COVID-19 can be a challenge for employers to address due to the wide range of symptoms people with the condition may present. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains an extensive list of long COVID-19 symptoms, ranging from tiredness and fatigue to breathing difficulties to heart palpitations, among others.
A lack of labor force participation might impact recruiting, but long COVID-19 presents other issues. The condition may require employers to explore a number of accommodations or adjustments in the rush to bring workers back to physical worksites, management-side attorneys previously told HR Dive.
There are signs federal agencies may pay heightened attention to the condition in the near future. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor published a blog in which it described how long COVID-19 may interact with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s coverage. The agency noted that potential accommodations for long COVID-19 could include, but are not limited to, providing or modifying equipment or devices; part-time or modified work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; or adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies.
Earlier this month, DOL closed a “virtual crowdsourcing event” in which it sought feedback from employees and employers about long COVID-19’s workplace impacts. Respondents suggested the agency undertake a number of measures, such as launching awareness campaigns, encouraging short-term disability insurance policies and creating a national training and accountability program for employers.