Estimating the employment and earnings costs of mental illness: recent developments in the United States
Substantial attention has recently been focused on both the prevalence and consequences of mental illness. Generally, public interest in the costs of mental illness has been limited to the direct costs of treating the mentally ill. In this paper, we consider the magnitude and importance of a major component of the indirect costs of mental illness: employment and earnings losses. We first describe the technical difficulties involved in estimating these costs. We then describe new data and recent advances in the United States that have improved our ability to make such estimates. Our conclusions from the recent research are that each year in the United States 5-6 million workers between the ages of 16 and 54 lose, fail to seek, or cannot find employment as a consequence of mental illness. Among those who do work, we estimate that mental illness decreases annual income by an amount between $3500 and $6000. We then discuss an emerging challenge to the traditional method for arriving at such estimates: the friction cost approach. We describe both the conceptual and technical differences between the friction cost method and the traditional human capital approach. We conclude that while economic context has much to do with whether one relies on human capital or friction cost estimates, each can offer useful information about labor market losses due to mental illness.
Volume (Year): 53 (2001)
Issue (Month): 1 (July)
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