Senators Donnelly, Collins, and Casey Call for Examination of Link Between Labor Force Participation and Substance Use

The United States’ labor force participation rate has declined significantly since peaking in the late 1990s

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Bob Casey (D-PA), requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the relationship between labor force participation rates and substance use, and review state and federal policies that may affect this trend. In recent years, the labor force participation rate among prime-age workers has declined, while the percentage of older Americans in the workforce has increased. Senators Collins and Casey are the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, and Senator Donnelly is a member of the Aging Committee.

“Our nation’s labor force participation rate has declined significantly since peaking in the late 1990s,” wrote Senators Donnelly, Collins, and Casey. “Substance use appears to be one factor that has affected labor force participation rates. The number of overdose deaths in the United States involving prescription opioids and heroin has quintupled since 1999, and every day 115 Americans lose their battle with opioid addiction.”

“As the opioid crisis devastates communities around the country and millions of Americans continue to find it difficult to return to the labor force, we request a report that explores in depth the relationship between substance use and labor force participation rates, and any state and federal programs that may impact these trends,” the Senators continued.

In a December 2017 report, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging confirmed that labor force participation rates have increased among older Americans and declined for prime-age workers.[1] Among workers aged 65 and older, labor force participation has increased from 12.2 percent in 1997 to 19.3 percent in 2017, which is a 58.2 percent increase. Meanwhile, among prime-age workers during this same period, labor force participation rates have declined from 84.1 percent to 81.7 percent, which is a 2.9 percent decrease. The decline is even more pronounced among men, whose participation rates fell from 91.8 percent to 88.6 percent during this period, a 3.5 percent decrease.  

Click HERE to read the letter Donnelly, Collins, and Casey sent to GAO.