Atlanta and nation: Study says opioids cost economy at least 1.4 million workers (and that’s just the men)

6:45 p.m Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 AJC Homepage
Staff Writer
The opioid epidemic has not only killed tens of thousands, it has kept millions of others from working, according to a study. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Misuse of opioids may account for 20 percent of drop in the number of men who are part of the labor force, according to a study released Thursday.

That would mean more than a million workers on the sidelines instead of adding to the nation’s productivity and supporting their households with paychecks, according to the research by Princeton University economist Alan Krueger.

Some of the decline in men’s participation in the workforce is attributed to the aging out and retirement of the boomer generation. But that was only a partial explanation at best.

If Krueger’s findings are correct, his conclusion would go a long way toward sketching the economic toll wreaked by the opioid epidemic.

The lower share of men in the workforce matches the areas with high levels of opioid use, according to the Krueger paper, which is titled “Where have all the workers gone? An inquiry into the decline of the U.S. labor force participation rate.”

More than 7 million men between the age of 25 and 54 were not in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Twenty percent of the figure means more than 1.4 million men.

Most of those men in that group surveyed by the BLS say they are either sick, disabled or have some unspecified reason for not working.

Some men struggling with addiction are younger than 25 or older than 54, of course. But Krueger focused on that age group because they are unlikely to be either still in school or already retired.

He did not focus on women, who also are part of the opioid problem, but are believed to be a minority of those struggling with addiction.

In that 25- to 54-  year old group, more than 15 million women are not in the labor force. More than half say they are would be working but for household responsibilities.

In previous research, Krueger found that nearly one-half of men of prime working age take pain medication every day. 

The AJC has previously reported on the havoc wreaked on Atlanta suburbs by the opioid epidemic. 

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