Points of View

How the Opioid Crisis Affects Labor Force Participation

Sam Stebbins

This blog post refers to a paper written by Alan Krueger, which can be read here, and Brookings’ blog post about that paper, here

Economist Alan Krueger’s paper, released by Brookings this fall, makes the case for a closer look at the opioid epidemic as it relates to declining labor force participation. Nearly half of men age 25-54 who are not labor force participants also take pain medication daily. Of those, two-thirds take prescription pain medication.


Increased Opioid Prescriptions Tied to Decreased Labor Force Participation

While trends such as the aging population and increased post-secondary enrollment have also factored into the labor force participation decline, Krueger argues that the increase in opioid prescriptions have made a big impact as well. From 1999 to 2015, increased opioid prescriptions may account for about 20% of the decline in men’s labor force participation, and 25% of the decline in women’s labor force participation.

The correlation between opioid use and decreased labor force participation is evident when analyzing trends in opioid prescription by region. In counties where doctors prescribed 10% more opioid pain medications per capita, there was a 1% increase in the number of individuals takin pain medication daily. Additionally, the labor force participation rate falls more in counties with higher opioid prescription rates.


Michigan Not Immune to these Trends

The increase in opioid prescriptions is prevalent in Michigan, although less so in some West Michigan counties. MLive reports that in recent years, the number of opioid prescriptions outnumbers the state’s total population. The number of opioid prescriptions written increased by 41% between 2009 and 2015.

Krueger concludes by arguing that the opioid crisis and depressed labor force participation must become “a national priority.” Beyond its economic impacts, opioid use has also lead to increased overdose deaths. In West Michigan alone, at least 800 people died between 2010 and 2015 because of the opioid crisis. 

Read the full report from the Brookings Institute here.