The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have estimated that the 2017-2018 flu season could be worse than 2014-2015 when 30 million Americans over the age of 18 fell victim to the sickness including about 18 million workers. Based on the CDC estimates, Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas “figures the total cost to employers could be $15.4 billion in lost productivity or output.” With the CDC predicting 2009-2010 levels of 24 million affected workers, Challenger estimates productivity to hit $21 billion. “Such a toll theoretically could cut first-quarter economic growth by three-tenths to four tenths of a percentage point, from a projected 2.6% annual rate to 2.2% or 2.3%.”
Economist Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics disagrees with the large estimates, however. “Sweet figures the flu season probably won’t have a measurable effect on U.S. GDP but could modestly shave first-quarter growth by as much as a tenth of a percentage point if it worsens and looks more like the 2009-10 episode than 2014-15.” His reasoning is based on an offset of purchases. When people aren’t able to go to work at say a restaurant, people still purchase food (though maybe not as much due to a lack of service) and those who don’t go to work spend money on drugs and hospital visits. Overall the consumer spending is a wash according to Sweet.