At the 2019 WCRI Annual Conference, Dr. John W. Ruser, WCRI and Prof. Alan Kruegar, Princeton University, kicked off the conference with a keynote focused on the opioid epidemic, participation in the US labor force, and the state of the US economy.
The opioid overdose rate in the US has been steadily climbing since 1999 and it has increased over 250% during this time period. In 2017 over 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. This crisis is impacting mortality rates in the US as life expectancies have been declining here since 2000 directly linked to drug overdoses. The US is a global outlier as all other industrialized nations are seeing increased life expectancies during this same period of time.
A study done by Janet Currie and Molly Schnell showed that doctors trained at the lowest ranked medical schools write more prescriptions than doctors trained at the highest ranked school. This suggests that better training for physicians is a key element in curbing the opioid epidemic.
The percentage of men who are either working or looking for work has declined slowly but steadily since World War II and is below 90%. Women’s participation the labor force spiked dramatically through the 1990s then leveled off around 75%.
Studies show 42% of men not in the labor force rate their health as either fair or poor. 33% of the unemployed men report some level of disability. 44% of men not in the labor force regularly take pain medications compared to 20% in the labor force. About 35% of those working age men not in the labor force are receiving SSDI and 30% not on SSDI had applied for it.
The US budget operates in a very unique way in that there is always a degree of deficit spending with each budget so the government has to borrow additional money to cover it’s costs. However, there is a debt limit on how much can be borrowed. There has been much discussion lately around increasing that debt ceiling, and it has been increased many times.
We are in the second longest period of economic growth in our history and job growth is at an all-time high. Economic growth is usually stifled by policy changes focused on controlling inflation, wars, or an unexpected financial crisis. One concern is that there are more constraints on how the government can react to a recession given the low interest rates and high amount of US Government debt.
Impact of Automation
No one really knows the impact that automation will have on employment as previous dire predictions in this area have not become reality. When jobs have been lost other jobs have been created. We are seeing a shift with less good paying jobs available for low skilled workers due to automation.