Arguably, when a medical phenomenon is large enough to show up in unemployment data, it’s time to take it seriously. Last week, we noted that the people who have to pay for long COVID, either through disability payments or higher wages to a smaller pool of healthy employees, are starting to get concerned about long COVID (long-term disability resulting from a COVID infection). Well, slicing the U.S. unemployment survey data in a very clever way provides more evidence that there is a lot of long COVID (boldface mine):
How can we be sure that long Covid isn’t simply a manifestation of Covid alarmsim and hysteria?
There may be a way to cut through the noise. Data captured by a long-term government survey strongly suggests that there’s been a significant increase in the kind of disability that would be consistent with long Covid. And it does so based on a survey that makes no mention of Covid at all, but rather uses a standard batch of questions adopted in 1999.
…Typically, the numbers of Americans reporting disabilities of all kinds have risen together over time, since disabilities of all kinds are linked to old age, and the U.S. population is aging. Instead, the data for 2016–2021 reveal a very different picture. Despite the numbers of people reporting “ambulatory disability” or “self-care disability” falling by nearly one million and over 400,000, respectively, the number of people reporting “cognitive disability” rose by nearly one million, and the number reporting “vision disability” grew by over 300,000 people. The net result is an overall 1.5 million increase in the number reporting “any” disability.
That suggests the U.S. population is seeing a growth in disability that is not related to aging or to the availability of disability benefits, which would not favor one disability over another in the stark way the data suggest. Between 2011 and 2016, by contrast, the number of people reporting ambulatory disability rose by 1.28 million, and the number reporting self-care disability rose by 450,256. With the Baby Boom generation aging into their seventies, one might have expected that pattern to continue in the new data.
The Covid pandemic could explain both the surprising decline in ambulatory and self-care disabilities, and the increase in cognitive and vision disabilities. That’s because the 1.1 million recorded Covid deaths disproportionately affected frail and elderly Americans with ambulatory and self-care disabilities, including those housed in nursing homes, whereas the 100 million recorded U.S. Covid cases may have left many other Americans with lingering cognitive and vision difficulties.
More recent (but also more volatile) monthly data from the smaller Current Population Survey reveals a similar trend. Averaging by year, the estimated number of employed Americans with disabilities rose almost 19% from 5.86 million to 6.96 million between 2019 and 2022. Initially, economists speculated that the faster-than-usual increase was the result of more Americans with disabilities getting jobs in the age of remote work. Now, it seems equally plausible that more Americans with jobs have acquired disabilities, in the age of long Covid.
In the year 2023 of Our Gritty, a tigher labor market, not a concern for human welfare, is likely the only reason anyone will care about long COVID. While I like tight labor markets, this isn’t how anyone should want them to tighten. Meanwhile, our political betters won’t do anything about this because it’s still not a salient issue:
Meanwhile, the reporters with access to the White House or federal public health officials steadfastly refuse–and at this point, one should assume intentionality, not incompetence or ignorance–to ask what the actual percentages of people with different vaccination (and boosting) statuses who will contract long COVID after a breakthrough infection.
This will not end well, and those who ignore it are playing with political fire.