News Release

Pandemic’s Effects on Employment and Disability Among Older Americans


A new working paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research investigates the effects of the pandemic on employment and disability among older Americans. 

GOPI SHAH GODA;, @ipogadog
    Goda is the deputy director and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Goda and her co-authors studied “employment among older adults and their participation in disability and retirement insurance programs through the second year of the pandemic.” Major findings include:

  • Older workers have experienced “ongoing improvements in employment outcomes” as well as “sustained higher levels” of non-participation in the workforce.
  • Applications for Social Security disability benefits “remain depressed, particularly for Supplemental Security Income. 

The second year of the pandemic showed a “recovery of employment from the sharp drop and depressed levels seen in year one. By March 2022, the results suggest that employment is returning to what would have [been] expected given pre-pandemic patterns.” Unemployment rates are no longer significantly different for 62-70 year olds compared to February 2020. 

However, although “employment and unemployment rates for older workers have largely recovered to predicted levels by March 2022, labor force non-participation remains elevated.” 

Disability benefits “remain depressed relative to pre-pandemic levels.” Goda suggests that the shift from offline to online applications and the late return to in-person Social Security appointments may account for much of these lower-than-expected application numbers.

Earlier this month, Godi and Evan Soltas found that nearly 500,000 workers are out of the labor force due to Covid-related illnesses. Their paper found that the results were “concentrated among older workers, and that most of the effects are coming through the retirement channel.” The paper offers “one potential explanation as to why older workers have lower labor force participation.” Goda notes that because of the “tight labor market” in the U.S., “a lot of the higher nonparticipation is coming from reductions in unemployment.”