Workplace Demographics: How COVID’s Impact on Workers Will Leave a Lasting Impact on the Workforce for Years to Come

COVID-19 has caused much of our lives to feel tumultuous. Worker demographics too have experienced numerous changes over the last year.
By: | April 16, 2021

As Bob Dylan sang, the “times, they are a-changin.’ ” Little in our lives hasn’t been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic and that includes worker demographics.

Younger workers have faced layoffs while older workers have opted for an earlier-than-expected retirement in some cases. A loss of childcare has caused disproportionately caused women to juggle their career ambitions with additional household and childcare responsibilities.

Shifting worker demographics can have a lasting effect on the workers’ compensation industry.

A recent report from NCCI takes a look at recent workplace demographic trends. It delves into the increase in the number of older workers in the workforce and how the pandemic has affected the careers of women.

Key Takeaways from the Report

  • Older workers are on the rise. The report notes that the U.S. workers age 65 and older demographic is expected to grow by more than 50% over the next 10 years.
  • Younger workers were hit especially hard by the pandemic, with workers between the ages of 16-24 experiencing a 30% decline in employment.
  • College graduates were less likely to experience pandemic-related job loss. College graduates saw their employment rate fall by 6% while those with only a high school diploma saw a 22% drop and those without a college degree faced a 25% dip.
  • Employment loss rates for older women were slightly higher than those for men. For people of both genders aged 25-54, employment loss rates were about 5%. For workers aged 55 and older the women’s employment loss rate was 7% while the men’s was 6%.

The Aging Workforce: Still A Safety Concern

The aging workforce isn’t a new trend — the report notes that by 2029, 16.5 million people retirement age or older are projected to be in the labor force — but some shifts in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had an effect on older workers and their participation in the labor market.

At the onset of the pandemic, younger workers and those with less education saw the largest employment declines. Employment rates have recovered since then, NCCI notes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated retirement amongst some older workers. People over 65 are at high risk for serious COVID-19 illness, and as a result, many baby boomers chose to retire rather than risk going into work and getting sick.

Quarter three of 2020 saw 28.6 million boomers exit the workforce due to retirement —3.2 million more than the same quarter in 2019 — according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

NCCI said that, despite these shifts, it does not expect that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on the age composition of the U.S. workforce.

Since workers will likely continue to remain in the workforce after retirement age, it’s important for workers’ compensation to consider how demographic shifts change injury rates.

Previously, younger workers had higher injury rates, but older workers tended to experience more severe injuries. Within the last 15 years, NCCI’s data shows that pattern has ceased to be true.

Injury frequency has declined for almost all age groups, and since 2017 workers aged 25-44 have had the lowest injury rates. Workers over 65 are the only age group that saw an increase in injury rates. Over the five years period between 2015 and 2019, injury rates among workers 65 and older increased by 14%.

Older workers are still more likely to experience severe injuries and spend more time out of work. The median number of days workers 65 and older spend away from the job after an injury is 16 days, while 25-34 spend a median of 6 days away.

The Pandemic She-Cession

Early in the pandemic, women faced larger decreases to their employment rates than men. In April 2020, initial employment losses were 15%–17% for women compared to 12%–13%.

Part of this is due to the sector of employment. Industries with high rates of female employment like hospitality, retail and non-emergency health care were hit especially hard by the pandemic, which led to large numbers of women exiting the workforce.

While employment rates for men and women have become more similar as the pandemic wore on, women are bearing more of the indirect effects of the pandemic, which could have long-term consequences for their careers.

Closures of schools and daycares have meant that more children are at home while their parents are working and they may need supervision or help with Zoom schooling. Women have been found to be more likely to spend time meeting these needs than their male partners.

The NCCI report cited a McKinsey study that found that more than half of women with children under 10-years-old reported three or more additional hours of household responsibilities during the pandemic. Mothers were 50% more likely than fathers to report this extra workload.

Dubbed a “she-cession” by some, these additional household responsibilities could prevent women from receiving promotions and it could affect their long-term earning potential. &

Courtney DuChene is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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