Tue, May 28, 2024

Simon Says: Connecting the dots between workforce and health

Labor shortages continue to be a concern for many local businesses. The Augusta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) labor force (those in work or looking for work) is about 5,000 below pre-pandemic levels, although it has been rising recently (see below).

Other areas of the state have seen labor force levels surpass pre-pandemic levels. The Georgia labor force has remained above pre-pandemic levels since early 2022 and is now 150,000 higher. Some parts of the state are doing better than others and one explanation may be the health of the population.

The graph below shows the relationship between county rankings of health outcomes and the change in the labor force from April 2020 for the central county of the Georgia MSAs. Health outcomes are from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Health outcomes measure premature death, self-reported health, and low birth weight of newborn babies. The graph shows a clear relationship between the change in the size of the labor force and health rankings. Counties with better health rankings had larger increases in the labor force. For example, Richmond County has a health ranking of 137 and saw its labor force grow by just 1.5 percent. Hall County, on the other hand, has a health ranking of 12 and saw its labor force grow by 11.2 percent. Overall, health rankings explain almost one-third of the variation in the change in the labor force.

Much commentary about the labor shortage has advised firms to improve pay, benefits, or provide flexible working to encourage higher labor force participation. One area that has received less attention is how policymakers in counties can improve the health of their population to allow people to participate in the workforce. A healthy economy depends on a healthy population.

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