America’s K–12 students are slowly rebounding from both academic and socioemotional disruptions experienced during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic. As data have become available, it is clear that the pandemic’s negative effects are substantial but uneven. In this report, we use estimates from the Social Genome Model to predict how pandemic-related disruptions may affect children into adulthood. Specifically, we project how the pandemic’s cognitive and emotional impacts on schoolchildren may affect their degree attainment and lifetime earnings.
We estimate that academic disruptions from the pandemic, if not mitigated by interventions, would likely reduce annual earnings at age 30 by 1.2 to 3.2 percent (or $400 to $1,100 in 2018 dollars), depending on age, and predicted lifetime earnings by 0.7 to 1.8 percent (or $5,200 to $11,700 in 2018 discounted present-value dollars). Our model predicts a larger effect for those in early adolescence—around age 15—who have less time to catch up before entering higher education and the workforce. Our model also predicts declines in high school degree attainment (a decline of 0.58 to 1.18 percentage points, depending on age) and in bachelor’s degree attainment (a decline of 0.25 to 0.59 percentage points), if there is no additional action on pandemic-related learning loss.
Previous research shows that Black and Hispanic students, and students from households experiencing poverty, had steeper pandemic-related declines in academic test scores. These declines translate into additional losses in adulthood. When we disaggregate these effects by student race and ethnicity, and by student economic status, we find more substantial declines, especially in annual earnings and lifetime earnings, for Black and Hispanic students and for students from low-income backgrounds.
The pandemic has also caused socioemotional and mental health changes among school-age children. When we incorporate small declines in students’ behavior, mental health, and other measures, to the learning loss estimates, we find additional declines. Under a model that assumes substantial socioemotional effects, we estimate that decreases in predicted lifetime earnings would roughly double, ranging from a 1.8 to 3.5 percent decline.
These results assume no further interventions and are not written in stone. Our work points to the need for continued and sustained work to support students in their academic achievement and in how they relate to themselves and their peers. Policymakers could help by continuing to monitor how federal relief dollars are being spent, focusing on programming aimed at students most affected by the pandemic, and engaging families and community members to help students attain a full academic and socioemotional recovery.