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Number of workers who stayed home sick in January highest in five years

BLS says worse-than-normal flu season probably to blame

Posted April 2, 2018

According to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of workers who missed work because of an illness, injury, or medical problem or appointment in January 2018 was the highest in five years. The BLS says about 4.2 million workers missed work in January for those reasons. About 2.9 full-time workers cut their hours down to part time in January 2018 due to illness, injury, or medical problem or appointment; another 1.3 million employed people did not work at all during the survey reference week for the same reasons.

In its analysis, the BLS looked at data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of U.S. households conducted by the Census Bureau for the BLS. Workers were counted as full time if they usually worked at least 35 hours per week and part time if they worked fewer hours. The survey excluded part-time workers who missed some work (but not the entire week) for an illness-related reason. It also excluded people who took time off but still worked at least 35 hours during the survey reference week.

The BLS notes that illness-related absences are more common during cold- and flu-season: December through March. While not all absent workers who reported missing work because of an illness, injury, or medical problem or appointment had a cold or the flu, it is likely the increase in absences during the winter months reflects a spike in typical seasonal illnesses. Further, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the 2017-18 flu season was worse than in recent years.

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