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Illustration by Security Management

Extreme Heat Expected to Melt Labor Productivity, Report Finds

It’s hot out, and it’s only getting hotter. According to a new report, nearly all counties in the United States are feeling the economic burn from extreme heat—labor productivity losses are expected to top $500 billion annually by 2050, especially as the effects from climate change are likely to make periods of extreme heat more frequent, widespread, and severe.

In addition, the report concluded that extreme heat will claim nearly 60,000 lives a year by 2050, compared to approximately 8,500 deaths in a typical year now. Deaths are expected to be concentrated in Arizona, southern California, and southwest Texas.

Extreme heat also causes approximately 120,000 occupational injuries in a normal year, but that could rise fourfold to approximately 450,000 by 2050 without intervention.

The report, Extreme Heat: The Economic and Social Consequences for the United States, was produced by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center with analysis conducted by Vivid Economics. It studied how heat stress disproportionately affects specific regions, racial groups, and economic sectors across the United States. The paper considered merely “normal” years, not those considered unusually warm, so it offered a conservative view of the threat, according to the Atlantic Council.

Currently, the United States loses an average of $100 billion every year from heat-induced declines in labor productivity. By comparison, the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season in 2020 cost an estimated $60 billion in physical damage, lost economic activity, and health impacts. Without speedy action to mitigate climate change risks or adapt to them, annual labor productivity losses will double by 2030 and increase fivefold to $500 billion by 2050, the report found.

Breaking down losses by industry, agriculture and construction are proportionally hardest hit, but the greatest overall losses are in services such as transportation or logistics—which remains vulnerable to heat due to limited air conditioning.

Black and Hispanic workers are likely to be more drastically affected—they face productivity losses that are 18 percent greater than white workers, experiencing between 10 and 15 more days of temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit than their white peers.

For more on security and climate change, read how some defense agencies are already taking action to mitigate the threats posed by climate change.