We’ve all seen the headlines about labor shortages, worker attrition or, as many mainstream media refer to it, “the great resignations.”
It’s true: a record number of people have left their jobs since 2020. The trend is ongoing and some argue that quitting smoking is contagious. But there is another contagion that is likely leading people to leave the workforce in droves.
Since 2020, more than 95 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the United States, 1 million deaths and ongoing reports of Covid-induced chronic diseases and disabilities, known as long Covid. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that Covid has long since affected one in five people infected with Sars-CoV-2. A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution found that 2 to 4 million people could be unemployed as a result. With more than 11 million job vacancies in the United States, it is plausible that up to a third of the current labor shortage is due to the long-term Covid period.
In other words, the Great Resignation can be a symptom of a mass disable event.
So why don’t we talk more about quitting and long Covid? Instead of investigating the impact of the pandemic’s continuing damage on the workforce, many have been quick to frame the Great Resignations through stories of white-collar workers seeking a better work-life balance. For a society apparently eager to get out of the pandemic, the long Covid is an uncomfortable truth. Its potential impact on the workforce is even more inconvenient, as governments often cite economic problems as justification for abandoning Covid-19 mitigation efforts.
Despite widespread media attention on white-collar workers who have left, the attrition of pandemic workers is most evident in “essential” sectors that require face-to-face work. Many states face a dramatic shortage of teachers and health workers continue to resign. The restaurant and food service industry still experiences severe labor shortages linked to the pandemic. These workers have faced higher infection rates than those who work remotely and likely have higher rates of Covid for a long time, both because prevent infection it is the only way to prevent Covid for a long time and because reinfection can increase the risk.
It is logical that the long Covid could cause shortages in these sectors. A 2021 study by scientists from the University of California at San Francisco indicated that line cooks faced the highest mortality risk from Covid-19. One in five educators travel long haul, and health workers with long-term Covid say workplace pressures make it difficult to keep jobs.
As two people personally affected by post-viral diseases, we understand the difficult choices faced by long-haul haulers who cannot survive financially without working. We both rely on remote work and flexible hours to manage our health, many privileges with a long lack of Covid. Our symptoms are even milder than many, allowing us to fully work. The most seriously ill long-haul hauliers face major barriers to accessing social security disability benefits. Those who qualify will only receive $ 1,358 each month on average.
When Tracey Thompson got too sick to stand, it became clear she couldn’t go back to her previous job as a chef. More than two years later, Thompson is unemployed and disabled, with cognitive dysfunction and “overwhelming fatigue”. She recently regained enough strength to lift a single pan, but she remains homebound and mostly in bed. “Many of the normal ways of work, such as physical or mental work, are disrupted for me,” she explained. “You can’t cook remotely.”
Since falling ill, Thompson has come into contact with other long-haul haulers who are similarly unemployed. “There are a lot of people who are barely lurking … by a thread,” he said. “And there are people who are definitely not going to work well.” Unfortunately, pushing long Covid symptoms to keep working can result in deteriorating health. But, as Thompson explains, “people can’t afford to take a break.”
Leigh, an Ohio physiotherapist who prefers to be identified by her name alone, is one of them in the long haul. She sometimes finds herself forgetting interactions with patients and rarely has time to take care of herself. If she could keep health care by working less, she would. “I’m so tired of always being tired,” she said. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I’m… struggling. And I’m not sure I want people to know how much.
As long-haul transportation struggles to keep the occupation, a TikTok video about “quitting smoking” sparked a flurry of news depicting workers saying no to the hustle and bustle culture. As with the Great Resignation, most discussions of “silent abandonment” do not address the impact of the damage caused by the pandemic, focusing instead on perceived generation gaps. To borrow a phrase often attributed to Mark Twain, it’s like a TikTok meme goes around the world before the truth has time to put on its shoes.
“Silent resignations” and resignations may also be driven by recent removals of remote work options, mask mandates, and quarantine requirements. Some long-haul haulers who can work part-time or full-time are now sidelined due to the increased risk of reinfection. These people are joined by millions of other high-risk individuals who have been increasingly marginalized from society, and now they have to fend for themselves.
The link between occupational safety, chronic illness and work is not new. For decades, health justice activists have urged policy makers to respond to rising poverty rates for people with disabilities, calling for better workplace accommodations and disability benefits. However, policy makers continually fail to adequately address these issues. Erasing the disease is easier in a world where the chronically ill often seem to vanish from society altogether.
Since we started dealing with Covid for a long time in the spring of 2020, the patients we spoke with have consistently detailed and drastic financial problems. Yet little has been done to help. Instead, long-haul travelers burn their savings accounts, lose their homes, and trudge back and forth to jobs they can no longer do safely. Some may call it a great resignation or a “quiet abandonment”. For us it is an example of government neglect in the face of a public health crisis and the impossible choices that chronically ill and high-risk workers face today.
Repairing the shortage of labor means treating, welcoming and mitigating the long Covid. It also requires building a society in which disabled people can participate.