(Reuters) – The number of U.S. workers who were unable to work at some point over the previous four weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic fell in September, while more reported not looking for jobs because of those health concerns as the Delta variant of the coronavirus hit its summer peak, a Labor Department survey showed on Friday.
Approximately 5.03 million people were unable to work in September or reported reduced hours due to their business either closing entirely or cutting back operations, down from roughly 5.65 million in the prior month, according to the survey. The August figure had been the first rise since last December.
But the percentage of people who said they did not look for work because of COVID-19 fears also rose slightly to 1.63 million from 1.52 million the prior month, highlighting the uneven nature of the jobs recovery.
The statistics are derived from an ongoing additional survey of households carried out by the U.S. government that has accompanied the monthly jobs report since the beginning of the pandemic. Overall, U.S. job growth increased far less than expected in September amid a decline in government payrolls, the main report showed, the second straight month of disappointing gains.
“The survey week is early September and that is where we were still having some pretty major concerns with the Delta variant,” said Shawn Cruz, senior market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Economists still widely expect the U.S. jobs recovery to accelerate again in the coming months. They cite declining COVID-19 case counts, less childcare constraints with the return of in-person schooling and the recent expiry of federal government-funded pandemic unemployment benefits.
The benefits, which affected more than 6 million people, offered unemployment payments to people who did not qualify for the regular state jobless benefits, but were blamed by firms and Republicans for worker shortages.
The number of people who said they teleworked recently due to the pandemic was largely unchanged last month, falling to 20.35 million from 20.56 million.
(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Paul Simao)