US - absence rates and lost worktime data
Part 3 - Analysis of Lost Worktime rates
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Update Date: March - 2023
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.
Overview of the BLS lost worktime rates analysis
This part provides a detailed examination of the changes in lost worktime rates that occurred from 2020 onwards. In particular, we analyse the deviation in lost worktime rates from the 2002-2019 pre-pandemic trend, both in absolute and relative terms. We perform the analysis only for the subset of full time workers aged 25-54 as they are more representative of healthy prime workers. We perform the analysis for Men, Women and the Total number of workers (Total = Men + Women).
We first analyse the longer-term trends in lost worktime rates from 2002 to 2019 (the pre-pandemic period) so that we can establish a baseline for what can be considered "normal" or "expected" in variations and the historical trend in lost worktime rates. We then detrend the changes in lost worktime rates and analyse the remaining residuals, which are deviations from trend. For 2020 onwards, we use the forward projection of the 2002-2019 trend in lost worktime rates.
The second part of the analysis consists in measuring the changes in lost worktime rates relative to the baseline 2019 lost worktime rate (pre-pandemic). We measure the changes in lost worktime rates in 2020, 2021, and 2022 relative to the 2019 baseline. This provides a less sophisticated but easier to understand measurement of the changes in lost worktime rates since 2020.
Lost Worktime Rates, 25-54 year-olds, (Deviation from 2002-2019 trend)
In this section we analyse changes in lost worktime rates (total) relative to its linear trend spanning from 2002 to 2019 (the pre-pandemic period). To normalise the changes in lost worktime rates from 2020 onwards relative to the baseline trend, we use as a volatility metric, the standard deviation of the deviations from trend (residuals) for the period 2002 to 2019.
Lost Worktime Rates and 2002-2019 trend, 25-54 year-olds
We observe a declining trend in lost worktime rates from 2002 to 2019, for both men and women.
- From 2020, lost worktime rates increase in each consecutive year with the largest rise occurring in 2022.
Lost Worktime Rates, 25-54 year-olds, absolute deviation from trend
- When looking at the absolute deviation from trend (residuals) in lost worktime rates, we observe that the absolute deviation from 2002 to 2019 trend in absence rates varied between -0.2% to 0.2% from 2002 to 2019.
From 2020 we see a large jump in the deviation from trend. In 2022, the deviation from trend was about 0.8% in absolute terms.
The deviation from trend in 2022 was about the same for women (0.8%) and men (0.8%), indicating that, in absolute terms, both women and men experienced similar rises in lost worktime rates, when compared to the pre-pandemic trendline.
Lost Worktime Rates, 25-54 year-olds, % and normalised (Z-Score) deviation from trend
In relative terms, the deviation from trend in 2022, for the total (men + women) full time workers was about 70%.
Even though the absolute deviation from trend was the same in Women (0.8%) and Men (0.8%), in relative terms, Women experienced a 100% excess in lost worktime rates when compared to a 50% rise for Men (women's baseline lost worktime rates being roughly double those of men).
- When looking at the normalised deviation from trend in lost worktime rates, we observe that they rose above 13 by 2022. This is a very strong signal.
When looking at the normalized (Z-Score) deviation from 2002 to 2019 trend in lost worktime rates ranged between -2 to +2 from 2002 to 2019.
For the Total full time workers:
In 2020 and 2021 the Z-Score was around 7.5.
In 2022 the Z-Score was about 13.
We observe that lost worktime rates have been growing more and more out of line relative the previous 2002-2019 behaviour.
This means that the deviation from trend in lost worktime rates, in 2022, corresponded to more than 11 standard deviations (assuming a Gaussian distribution for the deviations from trend in lost worktime rates over the 2002-2019 period). This is a very strong signal.
Total Lost Worktime Rates, 25-54 year-olds, % change from 2019 value
This section analyses the changes in the lost worktime rates from its 2019 value. We compute the changes (in percentage) in lost worktime rates for 2020, 2021 and 2022, relative to 2019. This method of computing changes in lost worktime rates has an advantage of being simpler to unserstand and interpret than the deviation from the 2002-2019 trend that was discussed in the previous section. As lost worktime rates has an almost monothonically declining trend from 2002 to 2019, taking 2019 as a reference level will likely underestimate the actual increases in lost worktime rates that we observed in the previous section.
Total (Men + Women) Lost Worktime Rates in 2020,2021 and 2022, % change from 2019 values.
Lost worktime rates have grown substantially since 2019.
In 2022, lost worktime rates were 50% higher than in 2019, an extraordinary change representing a large economic loss of productivity.
When comparing the rise in lost worktime rates with the rise in absence rates (analysed in part-2), we can observe that the rise in lost worktime rates was roughly double that of the rise in absence rates.
Lost worktime rates for Men and Woman have increased substantially since 2019.
The largest rise in lost worktime rates was in 2022, at 50% higher than the 2019 rate, which occurred after the main impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In absolute terms, for 25-54 year-olds, lost worktime rates rose by 0.7%, from about 1.4% in 2019 to 2.1% in 2022.
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 lost worktime was the impact of the mass Covid-19 vaccinations.
More work is needed in order to understand if the rise in absence and lost worktime rates are due to higher levels of illness and injury in the overall population of full time workers, or if the increase in absence affects predominantly those workers with disabilities, whose numbers have risen since early 2021.