“This is the most credible evidence to date regarding the impact on a large portion of the population. … Reducing someone’s chance of working by 7 percent is a large effect,” said Sojourner, which was not part of the study.
Since March 2020, experts and employers suspected the pandemic had eroded people’s productivity, Sojourner said. “But we didn’t have a big hand on how much…and in what way,” he said.
The study, published by economists Gopi Shah Goda of Stanford University and Evan J. Soltas of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was developed with the nonprofit collaboration of dozens of US research universities.
Their estimated number of COVID-related absences is about 0.2% of adults, which equates to about 14,000 workers in Michigan based on the proportion of Michigan workers to the national total.
But Sojourner suspects the total number of workers the NBER study reports have left in the labor market is conservative.
University of Michigan economist Daniil Manaenkov agrees. He said there could be nearly a million more people in the United States unable to work full time due to COVID-related health issues.
“If you combine the people who are not looking for work because of the pandemic and the people who cannot work … full time due to health and medical issues, that’s probably over a million people,” did he declare.
Michigan employers continue to struggle with high levels of job openings. About 142,000 jobs in the state went unfilled in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There are a lot of restaurant owners who are still struggling to get people to work (for them),” said Dan West, president and CEO of the Livonia Chamber of Commerce.
“Accounting, engineering, finance, all still need a lot.”
Nationally, the labor force participation rate was 62.1% in August, down from 63.4% in January 2020. About 60.1% of working-age adults in Michigan were working or looking for work in August, compared to 61.7% in January 2020.
Economists and employment experts have pointed to several possible reasons why the labor force participation rate in the United States is still lower than at the start of the pandemic.
In Michigan, the gap between the state and the national average is wider after the pandemic, which many suggest is the result of that state’s aging population heading into retirement.
Other factors have also influenced labor outflowincluding not finding childcare, pursuing higher education, living off savings, and exploring entrepreneurship instead of taking up wage employment.
While the new study doesn’t address all of the reasons people leave the labor market, “it does address an important one,” sojourner said, speaking of health impacts.
The report estimates that the lost workforce results in an economic loss of about $62 billion, “which is about half of the estimated losses due to cancer or diabetes.”
Those who had more severe COVID and returned to work took fewer hours or lower-paying jobs.
Attracting people to work and higher levels of productivity could come from understanding the effects of so-called long COVID, which can include brain fog and fatigue.
“It suggests we have a lot to learn about how to support people who find themselves in this position,” Upjohn’s Sojourner said.
Scheduling shorter shifts, allowing for more flexibility around varying health needs and even improving disability policies could play a part.
Lost productivity could also help policymakers and employers make more informed decisions when it comes to containing the spread of the disease. Masks, ventilation and social distancing “have real costs for people,” Sojourner said, “but [they] also generate benefits.