How the Opioid Crisis Affects West Michigan’s Labor Force

In a 2017 report for The Brookings Institution titled “Where Have All the Workers Gone? An Inquiry into the Decline of the U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate,” economist Alan Krueger finds that opioid use and addiction may account for a significant percentage of the declining labor force participation rate (LFPR). Nearly half of men ages 25-54 who are not working take pain medication on a daily basis; two thirds of them are using prescription pain medication.


Krueger argues that 20% of the decline in men’s LFPR and 25% of the decline in women’s LFPR may be due to the increase in opioid prescriptions between 1999 and 2015. Using this percentage, that means that about 17,939 adults in West Michigan have left the labor force over the past 16 years due to opioid use.


It should be noted, of course, that the opioid crisis is not the only factor. The aging population of the U.S. and the increasing number of adults enrolled in postsecondary education also accounts for the LFPR. However, the opioid crisis is a significant issue that is negatively impacting both workers and employers in West Michigan and the U.S. overall.


The Opioid Crisis in West Michigan

Brookings notes that “Krueger’s research indicates that regional differences in medical practices affect the share of the population taking pain medication, even controlling for the population’s health and disability status.”


Krueger demonstrates this trend by comparing county-level opioid prescription rates with labor force data for the year 2015. He found that a high level of opioid prescriptions corresponds with a large decline in LFPR. According to this map, West Michigan saw a relatively high opioid prescription rate along with a large decline in LFPR.


In an interview with WZZM13, Wyoming Public Safety Director James Carmody said that opioid addictions and overdose fatalities in the region are occurring among people “living what you define as maybe an affluent lifestyle and…people that are of the poorest of the community.”  According to a doctor in the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, someone in the region dies from an accidental opioid overdose “every other day,” and the CDC reports that Michigan “continues to have one of the highest overdose death rates in the U.S.”


What Employers Can Do

To help alleviate this problem, some West Michigan employers are seeking new resources for their employees. Metalworks in Ludington has partnered with Connexion Point and Dr. Michelle Kuster to provide a recovery coach. In an interview with the Ludington Daily News, Kuster explained that treating addiction like a disease is the best way to approach the issue. This helps to “take away that stigma and take away that shame,” she says.


Ultimately, it is important that employers take action to address the barrier of substance use. Introducing services like Metalworks’ recovery coach or otherwise assisting employees in overcoming addiction is just one step employers can take. For more best practices, read about the Substance Use barrier here

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