All in all, we’re still down about 5 million jobs since February 2020, the month before the pandemic was declared. And while we’ve been steadily filling in that hole for a while now, the hole remains very deep and is filling in much too slowly.
The effects of covid-19 are all over this report.
For example, health-care employment (including nursing-home jobs) fell, likely in part due to patients avoiding congregate settings and delaying non-emergency care while facilities are overwhelmed with covid patients. It has been hard for health employers to hold on to workers, too, for a variety of factors: high levels of burnout, continued risks of the job, reported abuse from patients and anti-vaccine protesters, and some workers quitting to avoid vaccination requirements.
Nursing-home jobs also generally pay quite poorly, and workers may calculate that the work isn’t worth the risks.
Covid also appears to have affected workers who are technically employed. The share of workers who had jobs but said they were absent from work due to their own illness ticked up again in September.
Other factors are also weighing on hiring, such as access to child care. Child-care employment rose in September, but it’s still more than 10 percent below its pre-pandemic levels.
Likewise: While schools have reopened, many parents are still struggling with temporary school closures or quarantines of their children due to detected outbreaks. That makes it hard for parents — especially women, who are more likely to be primary caregivers — to reliably return to the workplace.
Americans’ priorities and work preferences have also changed, surveys conducted over the past year have found. Many are deciding they want different careers — more humane or higher-paying ones — or that they want a break from the grind entirely.
The share of Americans in the labor force is still well below its early-2020 level. Some of those people have retired and may never return to work; others are temporarily sitting things out and are able to do so in part because they’ve accumulated significant savings over this past year (thanks to government financial support, as well as an extended pullback in consumer spending on purchases such as travel or restaurants).
Some of these issues will need to be addressed through longer-term policy changes, such as an investment in child care or an increase in levels of legal immigration. But in the near term the single most important factor for getting job growth back on track is the same as it was last month, and the month before, and the year before that: getting the pandemic under control.
That means getting more shots in arms.