June 23, 2020
Recessions Hit Depressed Workers Hard
Anyone who’s suffered through depression knows it can be difficult to get out of bed, much less find the energy to go to work. Mental illness has been on the rise, and depression and myriad other symptoms get in the way of being a productive employee.
So it’s not surprising that men and women with mental illness are much less likely to be employed than people who have no symptoms. But the problem gets worse in a recession.
In 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, the economy slowed sharply as 2.6 million workers lost their jobs. During that time, people who suffered from mental illness left the labor force at a much faster pace than everyone else, according to a new study from the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers compared average labor force participation, as reported in the National Health Interview Survey, for three periods. Two periods of consistent economic growth bracketed a period that included the onset of the Great Recession: 1997-1999, 2006-2008, and 2015-2017.
Labor force participation for people with no mental illness dipped less than 1 percent between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, roughly three out of four of them were still in the labor force – only slightly below pre-recession levels.
Contrast this relative stability to large declines in activity for people with mental illness – the more severe the condition, the steeper the drop. Participation fell 17 percent among people with the most severe forms of mental illness between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, only 38 percent of them remained in the labor force – well below pre-recession levels.
The most common way people in severe psychological distress said they left the labor force was by retiring before they turned 65. Their early retirement rate more than doubled over the two decades. Moreover, people of all ages with mental illness applied for disability at growing rates.
The increase in mental health conditions adds another factor to the confluence of economic and demographic changes known to affect whether people are in the labor force, the researchers found in their analysis.
Growing psychological distress in the population – especially depression and anxiety – is an important part of the story.
To read this study, authored by Richard G. Frank, Sherry Glied, Keith Marple, and Morgan Shields, see “Changing Labor Markets and Mental Illness: Impacts on Work and Disability.”
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The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.