A Commonwealth Fund study, Health and Productivity Among U.S. Workers, by Fund staff Karen Davis, Sara Collins, Michelle Doty, Alice Ho, and Alyssa Holmgren, based on data from a 2003 Fund report, revealed that 18 million adults ages 19 to 64 were not working and had a disability or chronic disease, or were not working because of health reasons.
“A healthy workforce is one of our most important economic assets as a nation,” Fund researchers wrote. “While ensuring that all Americans have health insurance coverage and receive effective medical services would certainly help protect this vital asset, the cost of doing so has thus far deterred the nation’s policymakers.”
The study found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of workers reported missing days because of their own illness or that of a family member. Analysis of the survey data finds that an estimated 69 million workers took sick days in 2003, amounting to 407 million lost days of work. Valuing this missed time at workers’ actual wage rates, an estimated $48 billion of economic output was not generated due to time off while sick.
Half of workers reported a time when they were unable to concentrate at work because of their own illness or that of a family member, accounting for 478 million days. Some 20% reported six days or more in this condition. The difference between sicker and healthier workers reporting six or more days at work of reduced productivity was even greater (31% vs. 16%).
The Commonwealth Fund authors asserted that providing workers with the means to maintain their health and the health of family members, including affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage and paid sick leave, could yield economic payoffs for working families and the overall economy.
“ When people are unable to work or drop out of the workforce because of serious health problems or disability, they do not generate economic output, pay taxes on earnings, or help raise the nation’s economic standard of living,” the researchers pointed out. “Investing in the health of workers and the prevention of disability and serious illness could have an economic payoff. The US labor force would expand, with the potential for a significant increase in the nation’s standard of living and economic output.”