The labor force participation rates of prime-age US workers dropped in March 2020—the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—and have still not fully recovered. At the same time, deaths from substance abuse were elevated during the pandemic relative to trend, indicating the number of people abusing substances may have increased, and those who abuse opioids and crystal methamphetamine have lower labor force participation rates than those who don’t abuse these substances. Could increased substance abuse during the pandemic be a factor contributing to the fall in labor force participation? Estimates of the number of additional people with a substance-use disorder during the pandemic presented in this article suggest that increased substance abuse accounts for between 9 percent and 26 percent of the decline in prime-age labor force participation between February 2020 and June 2021.
- Substance abuse deaths rose during the pandemic.
- If increased deaths reflect similar increases in user rates, increased substance abuse can account for between 9 percent and 26 percent of the decline in prime-age labor force participation between February 2020 and June 2021.
Center Affiliation: Center for Human Capital Studies
JEL classification: I12, J11, J21
Key words: COVID-19 pandemic, substance abuse, labor force participation
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