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POID Working Paper

Long social distancing

Many working-age Americans say they will continue some forms of social distancing after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. We uncover this long social distancing phenomenon in our monthly Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes. It is stronger among older persons, the less educated, and those who live with or care for persons at high risk from infectious diseases. Regression models fit to individual-level data suggest that social distancing lowered labor force participation by 2.4 percentage points in 2022, 1.2 points on an earnings-weighted basis. Daily interactions with at-risk persons and long COVID experiences lead to larger drags on participation. When combined with simple equilibrium models, our results imply that the social distancing drag on participation reduced U.S. output by $205 billion in 2022, shrank the college wage premium by 2.1 percentage points, and modestly steepened the cross-sectional age-wage profile. Our data also say that social distancing intentions overlap with, but are broader than, infection worries. Drawing on self-assessed causal effects in a separate analysis, we estimate that infection worries lowered participation by one percentage point as of late 2022.

Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom and Steven J. Davis

22 May 2023     Paper Number POIDWP072

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