|Brookings Institution map; click on it to see a much larger version.|
Labor-force participation has been declining for about 15 years, "reaching a near 40-year low of 62.4 percent in September 2015," Dews notes. "The participation rate of American women had fallen from the top group of OECD countries to near the bottom," according to the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Krueger suggests that while much of the decline comes from the aging population "and other trends that pre-date the Great Recession (for example, increased school enrollment of younger workers), an increase in opioid prescription rates might also play an important role in the decline, and undoubtedly compounds the problem as many people who are out of the labor force find it difficult to return to work because of reliance on pain medication," Dews writes.
But is the trend more because people on painkillers are less likely to work, or because people not working are more likely to be on painkillers? “Regardless of the direction of causality, the opioid crisis and depressed labor-force participation are now intertwined in many parts of the U.S,” Krueger writes.