[UPDATED] The Impact of Long COVID on the Workforce

Oct 5, 2022

Recently we posted an article about how Long COVID affects employees and employers. As issues around Long COVID and the workforce continuously emerge, we plan to provide updates to keep the community in the know about the latest data and conversations on this topic. In this post we’ve provide a brief review of recent studies estimating the impact on the labor shortage.

What is the impact of Long COVID on employees?

The potential reach and impact of Long COVID on the workforce is extensive. Dr. Nisreen Alwan from the University of Southampton found that 75% of the Long COVID patients she surveyed said the illness had affected their jobs. Her March 2021 study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, reported responses to an online survey of over 2500 Long COVID patients. The cognitive symptoms of Long COVID that can affect work performance and productivity include: brain fog, memory issues, and difficulties with concentration and multitasking. As a result, employees with Long COVID may lose their position if job flexibility is not possible or employers are unable or unwilling to provide necessary accommodations.

What is the impact of Long COVID on employers?

Recent studies have estimated the impact of Long COVID on the labor shortage, leading experts to now recognize Long COVID as an economic issue as well as a health issue.

In August 2022 the Brookings Institution updated their previous report (January 2022) on how Long COVID has impacted the workforce, stating that approximately 16 million working-age Americans (individuals between the ages of 18 and 65) are dealing with Long COVID. Of these individuals 2 to 4 million are not working as a result of Long COVID. This has led to a loss in wages of approximately $170 billion per year. These statistics are based on data from the Census Bureau’s June to July 2022 Household Pulse Survey. 

Another study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded that approximately 25.9% of people with Long COVID had to reduce the hours which they work or are unfortunately no longer able to work at all. A study in The Lancet found similar results stating that 22% of people with Long COVID are unable to work and 45% have had to reduce their working hours.

Despite their differing methodologies and assumptions, these recent studies illustrate the magnitude of Long COVID’s effect on employees and employers.

Looking ahead

There is still a lot we do not know about Long COVID, including how long the symptoms last and how long it will affect an individual’s ability to work. As more data become available, we will continue to learn about the true burden of Long COVID on the workforce. Employers can support their employees by providing a safe work environment that prevents COVID-19 transmission as well as offering job flexibility and workplace accommodations for employees returning to work with Long COVID. For more information about steps employers can take to support their employees, please visit our previous post.

For inquiries related to the Long COVID Initiative, please contact long_covid_initiative@brown.edu