The Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow - Economic Studies
Policy Director - The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy
Senior Research Assistant - The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy
There is growing evidence that some people infected with the COVID-19 virus experience long-run health problems known as long COVID, potentially leading them to drop out of the labor force. At the same time, the advent of remote work might have increased the participation of people with disabilities. We use data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) to assess the effects of long COVID and remote work on the labor force participation and work hours of people with disabilities.
We answer three questions.
One, what is the net effect on the labor force and work hours from the combination of long COVID and remote work?
We find that the combination of long COVID and the increased availability of remote work has had only a small effect on the labor force—reducing it between 281,000 and 562,000 workers, or between 0.2% and 0.4%.
We find some evidence of a decline in hours worked, but it is quite small. We estimate that people with long COVID who stayed in the labor force reduced their average hours of work by between 2.2% and 3.4%, leading to a loss of between 20,000 and 39,000 full-time equivalent workers.
Two, how many workers left the labor force because of long COVID?
Decomposing our total estimate into the effect of long COVID and the effect of remote work, we estimate that about 420,000 workers ages 16-64 likely left the labor force because of long COVID, with a reasonable range of 281,000 to 683,000 (0.2% to 0.4% of the labor force).
Three, what effect did the spread of remote work have on the labor force participation rate and hours of work of people with disabilities?
We see only scant evidence that the spread of remote work has increased the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities and no evidence that it has increased work hours.
Although labor force participation and hours of work for people with disabilities have both increased since the start of the pandemic, the most likely explanation is a composition effect among people who report a disability to the CPS: People with long COVID are more likely to work and work more hours than people who would have been disabled absent the pandemic.
However, our evidence suggests that remote work might have had some small positive effect on the participation of 45- to 64-year-olds with disabilities, increasing the labor force by up to 121,000 workers.