Fewer Americans blame COVID for preventing them from seeking work

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An employment application form is displayed during a restaurant job career fair in New York

By Evan Sully

(Reuters) – Fewer Americans are citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason why they’re not looking for work as more people are getting vaccinated and unemployment steadily declines.

The Labor Department on Friday reported that 2.5 million people did not look for work in May because of COVID-19, down from 2.85 million the month before and 9.7 million a year ago. That represents about 2.5% of the roughly 100 million working-age Americans who were not in the labor force in May versus 9.5% of those not working or looking for a job a year ago.

“With more … of the U.S. adult population now fully vaccinated and daily case counts steadily declining, we believe hurdles related to COVID have continued to subside and led some workers to return to the labor force in May,” said Shannon Seery, Economist at Wells Fargo.

Nearly 52% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, according to a Reuters tally, while almost 42% have been fully vaccinated.

The figures on those not looking for work due to COVID came alongside the government’s monthly employment report, which showed nonfarm payrolls increased by 559,000 jobs in May after rising 278,000 in April.

The Labor Department in May 2020 began asking households an additional set of questions about how COVID was affecting their ability to work, and last month’s data showed a fourth straight monthly decline in those blaming the pandemic for keeping them on the sidelines of the job market.

“An improving health situation would make COVID less of a factor in individuals’ decision not to look for work,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, Lead Economist at Oxford Economics.

Additionally, the report showed just 25.2 million Americans either teleworked or worked from home in May as a result of COVID, representing 16.6% of the nearly 152 million people working last month. That’s down by roughly half from last May’s 48.7 million people who were working remotely, then more than a third of all those employed.

More employers have begun calling workers back to offices, and waves of businesses that need staff on site, like restaurants, have reopened in recent weeks as pandemic restrictions have eased.

(Reporting by Evan Sully; Editing by Dan Burns)

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