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Unemployment and the Long COVID-19 Recovery

July 22, 2021  |  Article


Yogin Shroff, Senior Partner and Chief Operating Officer

American unemployment spiked in 2020 as COVID-19 took hold in the United States. How is the nation recovering?

The global effect of COVID-19 on unemployment is well documented. As the pandemic took hold in the United States, the American unemployment rate more than tripled from 4.4% in March 2020 to 14.8% in April 2020.1 A spike of this magnitude had not been seen since the Great Recession of the 2000s, and the Great Depression before that.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a quarterly breakdown of unemployment trend since January 2020.2

While the unemployment rate trends toward normalcy in 2021, today there are still 6.8 million fewer jobs than there were before the pandemic.3 Moreover, it bears mention that minorities – populations that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and its deleterious social effects in the first place – have seen a longer road to employment recovery.4


Employment and job stability have long been linked to population health outcomes. Therefore unemployment is an important consideration with respect to making inferences around social risk factors.

First, unemployed individuals typically report negative mental health consequences such as anxiety and depression. Too often these mental health challenges translate to physical health issues including but not limited to high blood pressure and heart attacks.5

Next, a strong correlation exists between unemployment and alcohol/substance abuse owing to reduced self-esteem and emotional instability.6

Finally, with nearly 50% of Americans reliant on employer-sponsored insurance, unemployment represents a considerable disturbance to accessible and affordable care.7


Unemployment rates are still higher than pre-pandemic levels, which underscores a need for action. One such action comes in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which not only extends unemployment benefits, but also assists with health insurance premiums for those who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced because of COVID-19.

In addition, there are also long-term sustainable methods that healthcare organizations can adopt to advance employment.

No matter the type of intervention or strategy deployed, it is critical to understand the impact joblessness has on the population – both for individuals and for families. Employment is inseparable from economic stability, which in turn, reduces social risk and promotes positive population health outcomes.


1Falk G, Romero P, Carter J, Nicchitta I, Nyhof E (15, June 2021) Unemployment Rates During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from

2U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) Retrieved from

3 Huffman M (2, July 2021) Jobs increased by 850,000 in June. Retrieved from

4 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (12, July 2021) Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships. Retrieved from

5 Healthy People. Retrieved from

6 Marrone J, Swarbrick M. (19, March 2020) Long-Term Unemployment: A Social Determinant Underaddressed Within Community Behavioral Health Programs. Retrieved from

7 Kaiser Family Foundation (2019) Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population. Retrieved from,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

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