One Theory on the Big Jump in Workers With Disabilities

Fed report suggests long COVID is the driver
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 26, 2022 10:50 AM CDT
Inside the Big Jump in Workers With Disabilities
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/jotily)

Take a look at Axios' chart of how many disabled Americans are in the US workforce, and you'll see a decade where the number mostly fell between 4 million and 5 million. But since 2020 it's been a steady climb from just below 5 million to 5.73 million as of August 2022. New research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests long COVID is the driver. As Richard Deitz writes, data shows there was "a net increase of close to 1 million disabled persons in the labor force since the pandemic began."

He cites the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, in which working-age people with a disability can self-report which of six different forms of disability they're experiencing. One of those forms, cognitive difficulty, took a big jump. "One of the hallmarks of long COVID is a type of cognitive impairment called brain fog, which appears to be driving an increase of 1.3 million people reporting difficulties with concentration or memory since mid-2020," Deitz explains. Axios cheers the news in one sense: "Disabled Americans face enormous obstacles in the job market; if folks with long COVID can keep working, that means some employers are accommodating their needs."

But Axios cautions that a worsening economy could reduce employers' willingness to do so. Dietz adds that "one positive sign is that disability counts have come down in recent months, suggesting that some of those disabled with long COVID have improved significantly." NPR separately reports that the presence of those disabled with long COVID have improved the situation for workers with other disabilities; with long COVID sufferers asking for workplace accommodations, more employers have come to offer them. (More long COVID stories.)

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