2019 RDRC Meeting: Changing Labor Markets and Mental Illness: Impacts on Work and Disability

Published: 2019


A number of the most prevalent mental illnesses lead to significant cognitive dysfunction.  They can have important impacts on attention, working memory, executive function, processing speed, and social cognition. These dysfunctions translate into impairments in skills that are known to affect productivity. Key changes in automatic and information technology indicate a trend toward displacement of low-wage jobs and those that require the ability to perform routine cognitive and noncognitive tasks. This pattern of changes in workforce needs may have profound effects on the employment prospects for people with mental illnesses. In this paper, we address three issues: the trends in labor force participation for people with mental illnesses for the years 1997-2017; the skill mix of jobs held by people with mental illnesses and some hypotheses about what that means for employment of people with these illnesses in the coming decades. Our analysis shows that from 1997 through 2017 labor force participation for people with mental illnesses has declined relative to those with such illnesses. These reductions have been driven in considerable measure by increasing prevalence of illness. We also show that people with moderate to severe psychological distress are underrepresented in occupations with skill demands involving nonroutine cognitive analytical and nonroutine cognitive interpersonal skills that have been growing in recent years. They are over represented in jobs that involve routine and nonroutine manual skills. Jobs with routine manual skill requirements are those that are declining.

Key Findings