Illness is stopping Britons from coming back to work.
During the 2010s the British economy grew not by becoming much more productive but by keeping people in work for longer.
Of the 4m or so extra workers who became employed in 2010-20, two-thirds had lived for more than half a century.
Since the pandemic many of these veterans have gone absent without leave.
New labour-market data, covering the three months to the end of November 2022, show that there were roughly 300,000 more inactive workers over the age of 50 compared with the first quarter of 2020.
Number-crunchers divide those out of work into two groups—the unemployed, who are looking and available for work; and the inactive, who are not.
There are far more inactive workers (about 22% of the working-age population) than unemployed ones (under 4%).
Inactive workers include the long-term sick, the retired, those looking after children, students and those who have given up looking for work.
The ranks of the sick have apparently swollen the most since the pandemic.
There were an additional 300,000 workers between the ages of 16 and 64 who said they were inactive because of long-term illness in the third quarter of 2022 compared with the first quarter of 2020.
(The other big increase was among students, typically at the younger end of the age spectrum.)
But research by Bee Boileau of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, shows that the increase in ill-health is among workers who have been inactive for over five years rather than among those who recently left the labour force.
She points to another, unrelated trend: more workers have been retiring early.
Pension rules, introduced in 2015 and known as "pension freedoms", allow those over the age of 55 to withdraw their nest egg early and gradually draw down the balance to live on.
The pandemic boosted the value of these pots.
First, would-be retirees had more cash to save through not going into the office or socialising; second, lower interest rates and a stockmarket boom lifted the value of financial assets.
Some will have used the windfall to retire.