Many Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and now many are living with symptoms indefinitely.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 Americans who have had COVID-19 have long COVID, which is defined as having symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus - symptoms that they didn't have prior to their COVID infections.
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"Estimates show around 16 million Americans are living with long COVID today. It is also estimated that 2 [million] to 4 million workers are still out of work due to long COVID," said Kim Crowder, founder and CEO of Kim Crowder Consulting. "Of those who have returned to work, they may still struggle with physical, mental and/or emotional complications that impact their ability to function in the workplace."
Long COVID isn't just hurting the health of Americans and costing lives, which is by far the most important thing, it's hurting the labor market.
Both Employees and Employers Are Hurting
"The impact of COVID-19 on the job market and the economy has been significant, and it is likely to continue to be felt for some time," said Andrew Lokenauth, founder and CEO of Fluent in Finance and an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco's School of Management. "Many employees have faced challenges such as job loss, reduced hours and difficulties finding new employment."
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Employers, too, face challenges amid long COVID "such as the need to adapt to remote work and changes in consumer demand," Lokenauth said.
Additionally, due to long COVID, companies are having trouble attracting long-term talent.
"Employers are already struggling to fill open roles," said Brian DeChesare, the founder of Breaking Into Wall Street. "Expect to see revenues drop off for many businesses, made worse by Americans spending less to try to manage their budgets. In the next year or two, I expect many businesses will be crumbling under the economic and staffing issues they face."
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"The initial fall of labor market participation rates stemmed from COVID infection rates and sicknesses," said Sania Khan, chief economist at Eightfold AI. "Economists assumed that participation rates would rise as soon as those individuals felt better; however, lingering long COVID issues have caused such severe health issues leading to the inability to work."
The Rise of the Gig Worker?
Because of the need for flexibility that long COVID may create, we could see a rise of the gig worker.
"Those with long COVID symptoms might opt for the gig worker route," Khan said. "Flexibility has been cited as one of the most important factors for employees and would be of great importance to those [with] long COVID symptoms. According to Eightfold AI data and analysis, we estimate a 25.6% increase in the number of contingent workers in the US in 2023."
Khan said the increases in gig workers are expected to continue over the next few years - up a projected 16% in 2024, 14% in 2025 and 16% in 2026.
When Will Things Stabilize?
It's tough, if not impossible, to predict when the long COVID situation will stabilize. So much about long COVID is still unknown. Only now are we learning just how many lives have been lost to long COVID - at least 3,500, according to a new CDC analysis.
"It is difficult to say how long the impact of COVID-19 on the job market and the economy will last," Lokenauth said. "The situation is changing rapidly, and the outcome will depend on a number of factors, including the success of efforts to contain the virus and the effectiveness of government policies."
Employers Need To Step Up
In the meantime, employers need to address the problem of long COVID by implementing policies to serve employees and prospective hires dealing with this still largely mysterious illness.
Crowder recommends that employers do the following to strengthen their workplaces and ultimately help strengthen the job market:
"Consider flexible work options such as hybrid and remote when possible to support parents and those who may be caring for sick loved ones." This method is also effective in helping those coping with long COVID.
Bring in health educators. "Companies should consider bringing in health educators for learning opportunities to improve vaccine literacy, understanding and comfort. This should be done in a way that is not confrontational or coercive, but rather optional and informative."
"Encourage employees to utilize sick leave. Management and leadership should model the importance of self-care."
Offer incentives - free breakfast, lunch or gift cards, etc. - for employees who get flu vaccines.
"Make vaccinations easy and accessible by hosting on-site vaccine clinics at your place of business."
Employers also should be ready to address a common symptom associated with long COVID: brain fog.
"Brain fog is a common symptom we're seeing with long COVID," DeChesare said. "Employers should be working with employees to understand what they need from them, whether that be fewer tasks on their plates or an organizational app that helps them stay on track throughout the days, weeks and months. When it becomes difficult to think and concentrate, employers should pull employee roles back to their basics and build them back up with the support they need."
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Job Market 2023: How 'Long COVID' May Impact Hiring This Year