The opioid epidemic weighs down the U.S. economy’s labor force

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The opioid epidemic sweeping across America has taken a heavy toll on the country, taking thousands of lives every year. But, the high level of lives being taken by prescription pills and street drugs isn’t the only way this crisis is affecting the country. A new report suggests opioids are also having a measurable impact on our economy.

According to Princeton University economist Alan Krueger, it is likely that opioids have contributed to a 20 percent drop in men’s labor force participation from 1999 to 2015.

“Labor force participation has fallen more in areas where relatively more opioid pain medication is prescribed, causing the problem of depressed labor force participation and the opioid crisis to become intertwined,” Krueger wrote.

These findings are backed by data collected by Krueger in 2016 which shows that approximately half of all men between the age of 25 and 54 who were not in the labor force take pain medications of some form every day. Of this group, approximately two-thirds are taking prescription opioids.

There are several other factors that could potentially affect the country’s labor force participation rates, such as an aging population, the growth of new markets which require specialized skills and training, and general economic changes. Despite this, Krueger’s research closely ties this decrease to opioids by finding that the counties where the most opioids have been prescribed are also the counties most strongly affected by decreasing labor force participation.

There is strong evidence that opioid addictions may be preventing potential workers from passing drug tests for employment. Additionally, those who are arrested for opioid abuse or possession of illegal opioids may not be able to find work with their criminal history.

Krueger is not the only expert to assert that the growing opioid crisis could be affecting our labor force. During a July Senate hearing on the opioid epidemic, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen told senators, “I do think it is related to declining labor-force participation among prime-age workers. I don’t know if it’s causal or if it’s a symptom of long-running economic maladies that have affected these communities and particularly affected workers who have seen their job opportunities decline.”

She also noted that America is “the only advanced nation that I know of where in these communities we’re actually, especially among less-educated men, seeing an increase in death rates partly reflecting opioid use.”

These findings and statements from experts show that the opioid crisis is affecting the country is a myriad of ways beyond the loss of life. While opioid abuse or addiction can leave an individual’s health at risk, the disabling and isolating factors related to opioid use have a ripple effect impacting everyone from those closest to them to the entire country as a whole.

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