Covid and the Worker Shortage

In prior posts, I’ve presented information about how Covid is impacting the size of the workforce in the US and contributing to supply chain disruptions and inflation.

This week, the Brookings Institute offers additional insights which are worth attention;

  • 15% of the worker shortage in the US is due to Long Covid, that is people suffering from long term symptoms who are partially or fully disabled by those symptoms.
    • A rough estimate is that 1.1 million workers have not worked at all in the past year due to suffering from Long Covid.
    • A substantial portion of those trying to work through the illness have needed to reduce their work hours. The reduced hours are the equivalent of 500,000 full time workers.
    • This makes the total impact of Long Covid equivalent to the loss of 1.6 million workers. That is 15% of the total unfilled jobs.
  • Government agencies have failed to pivot to the new reality. Labor force surveys don’t include Covid in data collection, so the government has no accurate figures of its own on the impact of Covid on the work force.
  • The report further criticizes the economics establishment for failure to understand the impact of Covid on the available workforce. Economic models need to be adjusted for the smaller number of available workers — and this might radically change our perspectives on inflation.

“Among these knowledge gaps is the fact that public health and economics experts have almost no understanding of long COVID’s economic burden.”

Katie Bach, Senior Fellow at Brookings Metro (1)

The Brookings discussion focuses on the direct effects of illness. We need also to consider:

  • Worker deaths, as indicated in the 40% increase in claims on employee life insurance in the second half of 2021.
  • The need for family members to reduce hours or leave work entirely to care for the disabled.
  • The cost to insurers and taxpayers of caring for a much larger number of disabled.

Bottom line: Covid has upended the economy, and continues to do so. Yet, policy makers and commentators are blindly trying to ignore the elephant in the room.

We’re already seeing political posturing blaming inflation on government spending, and that entirely misses the point.




  1. There is another dimension here – that of nations beginning to mandate vaccines, unvaccinated people will be barred from certain jobs. I’m not saying whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but potentially could affect maybe 5-10% of employees in heaklth and social care sectors, sectors which were already short-staffed before the pandemic.

    Just saying, that’s another factor, especially if we start looking sector-by-sector.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. My second life career is insurance; my first life was in research. I try to be as objective as possible and believe that readers are entitled to access to original materials in order to be able to make their own judgments. Although I’ve got to admit that my impatience at times with human stupidity can get the better of me!


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