Fed chairman links opioids, labor rate
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen, making her most expansive remarks on an opioid epidemic that’s ravaging American communities, indicated Thursday in testimony before a congressional committee that the problem is so pervasive it is holding back the nation’s labor market.
“I do think it is related to declining labor force participation among prime-age workers,” Yellen said of the opioid epidemic while answering questions during testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. “I don’t know if it’s causal or if it’s a symptom of long-running economic maladies that have affected these communities and particularly affected workers who have seen their job opportunities decline.”
Yellen’s comments come as overdose deaths are surging across the country. The opioid epidemic is the legacy of a major increase in painkiller prescriptions during the late 1990s, though it has shifted over to illicit drugs including heroin and fentanyl in recent years. Employers often cite it as a workforce readiness issue, and its footprint spans age and socioeconomic demographics, though it has hit working- and middle-class communities in Appalachia and the Northeast especially hard.
Asked whether there is a clear connection between opioids and an opportunity to go to a job, get employed, and have purpose in life, Yellen said that “all of those things are bound up in this opioid crisis,” and are “interacting in ways that are really quite devastating for these individuals and their communities.”