Fed chair­man links opi­oids, la­bor rate

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM -

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.”

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