Millions Aren't Able to Work Because of Long COVID

The Brookings Institution is out with a new report
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2022 7:00 AM CDT
Long COVID Could Be Keeping 4M Americans From Working
   (Getty Images / Jikaboom)

"Long COVID definitely affects the ability to remain employed," a doctor with Mount Sinai Health System tells the Wall Street Journal. It's an anecdotal statement that's backed up by new numbers. The paper cites a Brookings Institution report released Wednesday that refines its assessment of long COVID's impact on the labor market. In a January study, the Brookings Institution used available data to estimate that 1.6 million full-time equivalent workers might not be working because of COVID. It was able to fine-tune those numbers thanks to in part to new Census Bureau data; as of June its Household Pulse Survey has included four questions on long COVID. The new report puts the number of Americans who aren't working due to long COVID at 2 million to 4 million.

That represents between 12.5% and 25% of the 16 million working-age Americans (meaning ages 18 to 65) estimated to have long COVID currently. The report puts the annual cost of their lost wages alone at $170 billion a year. "Three million full-time-equivalent workers is 1.8% of the entire US civilian labor force," report author Katie Bach tells the Journal. And that's just the current picture. If COVID persists, and long COVID with it, and the recovery rates don't improve, "the economic burden will continue to rise," notes the study. "To give a sense of the magnitude: If the long COVID population increases by just 10% each year, in 10 years, the annual cost of lost wages will be half a trillion dollars."

As such, the report ends by flagging "five critical interventions to mitigate both the economic costs and household financial impact of long COVID." Among them: better prevention options and more doctors trained to treat long COVID (the reports cites months-long waiting lists to get into long COVID clinics) and improved workplace accommodations. NPR shares the story of a woman who got COVID in the spring of 2020, ended up with long COVID, and was fired the following summer due to performance issues that she attributes to the symptoms she suffers from. Read it here. (More long COVID stories.)

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