- The latest labor market data shows how COVID-19 continues to affect employment.
- About 4.65 million said they weren’t working because “I was caring for someone or sick myself with coronavirus symptoms” in September.
- This is more than double what was seen in the Census Pulse Survey data a few months earlier.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
It’s no secret that the Delta variant has thrown a wrench into the pandemic recovery story. In the US, it sent cases and deaths skyrocketing, even though COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.
It’s also put the economic recovery on thin ice. As Insider’s Ben Winck and Andy Kiersz reported, the dismal August jobs numbers set the recovery back by two months, knocking the projected time when employment would fully recover at current growth rates to April 2022. In August, the US added just 235,000 jobs, far lower than the 733,000 jobs that economists anticipated.
Now, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey offers a glimpse into how many people the virus is keeping out of work. Of the adult respondents surveyed from September 1 to September 13 who weren’t working, around 4.65 million said that the main reason was because “I was caring for someone or sick myself with coronavirus symptoms.”
That figure is more than double where it was in the early summer. The following chart shows how the number of Americans responding to this question has changed during the different data releases of the survey:
Aaron Sojourner, an economist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, pointed out on Twitter that the number who reported having or caring for someone with COVID-19 symptoms as the main reason for being out of work has more than doubled from July, and has steadily trickled up in the past few months.
His chart also shows some of the other main reasons people weren't working and how this has changed from earlier iterations of the pulse survey.
"It's not clear if changes reflect new people not employed or the same people with changing main reasons," Sojourner wrote on Twitter.
Workers dropping out over COVID-19 is probably fueling labor shortages
September was meant to be the month that labor shortages started to heal, with schools reopening and enhanced unemployment benefits ending. Instead, September told a "Delta story," according to Jess Wheeler, an economic analyst at Morning Consult.
Economists told Insider that labor shortages are likely due to a number of mismatches, from employers not looking for workers in the right places to not offering enough to lure them back. But the Delta variant likely still contributes to the protracted recovery and people returning to work - especially since millions increasingly reported not working due to their own symptoms or other's symptoms.
Heidi Shierholz, the president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, has said that the current moment also has "baby echoes" of the pandemic's onset, when millions were thrown from the labor force due to the virus.
"We're back in a period of great uncertainty again, and people that have health concerns, people that have childcare issues, we don't see this linear path towards those clearing up," Shierholz said.