Long Covid is keeping as many as 4 million full-time employees out of work in the US and the annual cost of those lost wages alone is around $170 billion a year (and potentially as high as $230 billion), a new report has revealed.
According to the non-profit Brookings Institution, if long Covid patients don’t begin recovering at greater rates, the economic burden will continue to rise for the US.
“To give a sense of the magnitude: If the long Covid population increases by just 10 per cent each year, in 10 years, the annual cost of lost wages will be half a trillion dollars,” the report warned.
A latest study published in The Lancet found that 22 per cent of people with long Covid were unable to work due to ill health, and another 45 per cent had to reduce hours worked.
“Since this report focuses on working-age Americans, we will use that group’s labor force participation rate of 75 per cent. So, of the 16.3 million working-age Americans with long Covid, we can assume 12.2 million were in the labor force, ” the findings showed.
Using the average US wage of $1,106 per week, the estimated 3 million people out of work due to long Covid translates to $168 billion a year in lost earnings.
“This is nearly 1 per cent of the total US gross domestic product. If the true number of people out of work is closer to 4 million, that is a $230 billion cost,” the report mentioned.
In the UK, one-quarter of companies cite long Covid as one of the main causes of long-term staff absence.
Harvard University economist David Cutler found that 12-17 per cent of Covid-19 patients are still experiencing three or more symptoms 12 weeks after onset, and that the labor force reduction among those with significant impairment is 70 per cent.
Using Covid-19 case counts and labor force participation rates, Cutler estimated that 3.5 million people are out of work due to long Covid, for a five-year lost wage cost of $1 trillion, or around $200 billion per year.
“Critically, this number does not represent the full economic burden of long Covid, because it does not include impacts such as the lower productivity of people working while ill, the significant health care costs patients incur, or the lost productivity of caretakers,” said the report.
Cutler estimated that medical care and lost quality of life related to long Covid cost an additional $544 billion each year.
A recent study suggests vaccines reduce the risk of long Covid by only 15 per cent.
“While we don’t yet know the risk of contracting long Covid after repeat infections, one recent study found that every repeat infection increases the probability of long-term health consequences,” according to the report.
There are at least five critical government interventions that can reduce the economic burden of long Covid: better prevention and treatment options, expanded paid sick leave, improved workplace accommodations, wider access to disability, and enhanced data collection on long Covid insurance’s economic effects.