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Research links long COVID-19 to labor market pressure

The past three COVID-19 years have been a rollercoaster for the labor market — from shutdowns to historic highs in unemployment and now — historic lows.

Newly released research from MU Extension explores the interplay between unemployment and long COVID-19 and looks at the economic impact of the condition on both workers and businesses. Researchers found that the labor market is currently in a squeeze, exacerbated by long COVID.

Long COVID occurs after a COVID-19 infection, and symptoms can last weeks, months or even years. Symptoms of long COVID can also come and go.

Alan Spell works at MU Extension and said nearly a third of Missourians who had COVID now have long COVID, which is higher than the national average.

The national average is 30%.

Those with long COVID range in their ability to work, with a conservative estimate of about 2% of the United States labor force out of work due to long COVID. Spell said that’s about 6,000 to 10,000 Missourians who could be in the labor force but are unable to work right now.

The market for labor is getting squeezed on both ends.

Spell said Missouri‘s unemployment rate of 2.4% is lower than the U.S average, and Missouri’s number of workers with long COVID is higher than the U.S. average.

“It's going to be something that's around with us for quite a while, and it's going to keep our labor force tight. And so just being aware of the difficulties and trying as a business to see what you can do to help alleviate those things,” Spell said.

According to the study, 7.5% of Missourians with long COVID don’t have jobs with paid leave, and employees under 30 at smaller firms tend to have a greater need for paid leave.

The occupations with the highest need for paid leave include the service industry, sales, and installations and maintenance jobs.

“Those individuals, just like anyone who's out without paid leave, are going to have to, you know, take it on their own finances to help cover their time off,” Spell said. “And so, you know, anyone who's in a work situation where they don't have paid leave, is going to face those challenges of, basically, income while you're out of work.”

Spell added that for businesses, long COVID means more hires and cross-training to help with employees working at a slower pace or out of work due to COVID complications.

“[What] Employers are facing with long COVID Is the challenges of not only, you know, finding staff, to staff their positions — but also when you think about productivity,” Spell said.

It also means that with a low labor supply and a consistent demand – that the cost of labor is climbing, which affects the business’s bottom line.

Briana Heaney is a senior at the University of Missouri’s journalism school studying cross-platform editing and producing and minoring in economics.