US - absence rates and lost worktime data
Part 1 - Overview of the Data
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Update Date: March - 2023
Layout of the BLS absence rates analysis
We split the analysis of absence rates published by the BLS in 3 parts, that complement each other. Each section is written in a different web page within which at the top the user can find the links to navigate to the other sections. The 3 comprise of:
Part 1 - Overview of the Data
This part provides the overall description of the data and shows the historical time series of absence rates and number of full time workers for different age groups, gender, and causes of absence rates. It allows us to put in perspective the analysis of the changes in absence and lost worktime rates, that we observe from 2020 onwards.
Part 2 - Analysis of Absence rates
This part provides a detailed examination of the changes in absence rates that occurred from 2020 onwards. In particular, we analyse the deviation in absence rates from the 2002-2019 pre-pandemic trend, both in absolute terms and relative terms.
Part 3 - Analysis of Lost Worktime rates
This part provides a detailed examination of the changes in lost worktime rates that occurred from 2020 onwards. We analyse the deviation in lost worktime rates from the 2002-2019 pre-pandemic trend, both in absolute terms and relative terms.
Period: Yearly data from 2002 onwards.
Data Source (BLS):
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
Link to the latest data release:
HOUSEHOLD DATA ANNUAL AVERAGES. Table 46: Absences from work of employed full-time wage and salary workers by age, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.
Absences are defined as instances when persons who usually work 35 or more hours a week worked less than 35 hours during the reference week for one of the following reasons: Own illness, injury, or medical problems; child-care problems; other family or personal obligations; civic or military duty; and maternity or paternity leave. Excluded are situations in which work was missed due to vacation or personal days, holiday, labour dispute, and other reasons. For multiple jobholders, absence data refer only to work missed at their main jobs. The absence rate is the ratio of workers with absences to total full-time wage and salary employment.
Lost Worktime is defined as hours absent as a percentage of hours usually worked.
Organisation of the data
Baseline Numbers - Full time employed population
The BLS computes absence rates and lost worktime rates for full time workers. Consequently, in order to have an idea of the denominator for the calculation we plot below the baseline numbers for the BLS full time workers, for different age cohorts. The chart on the left refers to ages 16 and above, the chart in the middle shows the prime workers aged 25 to 54, and the chart on the right refers to older workers aged 55 and above. These plots allow us to have a sense of the absolute magnitude of the effects that we are going to analyse in this study.
We can observe that:
- The number of full time workers in the US, aged 16+, rose from about 100 million in 2002 to 120 million in 2022
- The rise in full time workers from 2002 to 2022 was mainly due to the rise in older workers (aged 55+), which rose from about 13million in 2002 to 25 million in 2022.
- The number of full time workers in the US, aged 25 to 54, remained relatively stable from 2002 (78 million) to 2022 (82 million).
Baseline Numbers - Absence and Lost Worktime rates, 25-54
In this section we show the baseline for absence rates for the 25 to 54 age cohort only, as it is the most representative for the population of full time workers in the US. We first show the variation in absence rates by cause, and later by gender. These plots allow us to have an idea of the different effects that need to be taken into consideration when reading into our analysis further below.
Total Absence rates (Men + Women) by cause
The BLS annual average absence data separates the cause of absence the following way:
Illness or Injury: own illness, injury, or medical problems.
Other: other family or personal obligations; civic or military duty; and maternity or paternity leave.
Total = (Illness or Injury) + (Other)
Excluded are situations in which work was missed due to vacation or personal days, holiday, labour dispute, and other reasons.
- We can observe that there was a general declining trend in total absence rates from 2002 to 2019. This was driven by the decline in absence rates due to illness or injury, as the rate of other causes of absence remained almost constant throughout the period.
- Absence rates due to illness or injury dropped from about 2.5% in 2002 to 1.8% in 2019. Absence rates due to other causes remained constant at 1% throughout the period.
- From 2020, absence rates due to illness and injury rose substantially, in particular in 2021 and 2022, while absence rates for other causes remained the same.
Absence and Lost Worktime rates due to illness or injury, by gender
As we have established in the previous chart that the main driver for changes in absence rates from 2002 to 2022 was illness and injury, we will now explore the behaviour of absence rates and lost worktime rates for different genders, due to illness and injury only.
The chart on the left shows absence rates due to illness or injury, for workers aged 25 to 54, for men, women and total. The chart on the right plots the equivalent data for lost worktime rates.
- We can observe that the declining trend in absence rates from illness or injury from 2002 to 2019 was similar in both men and women.
- Absence rates due to illness or injury in women are about 1.5 times those of men.
- Similar behaviour is observed in lost worktime rates, with declining rates from 2002 to 2019 and a sudden and sharpe rise from 2020 to 2022.
Absence rates for Men and Woman increased in each successive year since 2019.
The largest rise in absence rates was in 2022 at 28.6% higher than the 2019 rate, which occurred after the main impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
In absolute terms, for 25-54 year-olds, absence rates rose from about 2.9% in 2019 to 3.7% in 2022, with the increase coming from absence due to illness, injury or medical problems, rather than other absences which have maintained consistent rates.
Taken in conjunction with the increase in disability rates since early 2021, which we’ve shown here and here, we believe that the most likely cause for the rise in absence levels was the impact of the mass Covid-19 vaccinations.
Not only did the Covid-19 vaccines cause a degradation of individuals' immune systems that led to higher rates of illness and injury, as did the rise in disabilities since early 2021, which we've shown to be related to the mass vaccination campaign (here and here) lead to higher absence rates.