News Release

Economists Find Roughly 500,000 U.S. Adults Out of Labor Force from Covid-19 Illnesses

In a new working paper, economists Gopi Shah Goda and Evan Soltas estimate that roughly 500,000 U.S. adults are still out of the labor force due to past Covid-19 illnesses. 

GOPI SHAH GODA; (650) 736-0480, gopi@stanford.edu 
    Goda is a senior fellow and deputy director at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. 

Goda told the Institute for Public Accuracy this week: “One of the central themes [from the past year of Goda and Soltas’ work together] has been the post-pandemic recovery.” She said the two authors faced a “constant question” about “how important Covid remained in current labor market data.” This research, she said, is “heavily inspired” by that question.

Although “there have been some longitudinal studies of Covid-19 survivors in the health literature looking at kidney outcomes, long Covid prevalence, and cardiovascular outcomes,” this working paper “provides some of the first evidence on longer-term labor market implications using a longitudinal research design with a large, representative sample.”

Goda and Soltas’s results show that “while popular attitudes towards Covid have shifted, health-related absences remain elevated compared with prior to the pandemic––and are [still] at 2021 levels.” The authors hope these “careful estimates of the economic losses from Covid’s health impacts can help policymakers accurately assess the consequences of various Covid-19 mitigation strategies and predict the reliance on social insurance programs, and are important inputs into economic policy decisions.”

Goda and Soltas’s main estimates show:

  • Workers who miss work for a week due to Covid-19 illness are 7 percent less likely to be in the labor force a year after their illness (compared to workers who do not miss a week of work). 
  • On average, workers who miss work from Covid-19 illness will forgo at least $9,000 worth of wages in the subsequent year––18 percent less than they would have expected to make if they had not gotten sick. Importantly, only about 10 percent of the lost earnings are incurred in the absence week; instead, the very large majority of the lost earnings are incurred over the long term. 
  • Since the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 illnesses have cost workers nearly $62 billion in wages each year.