Jul 25, 2022 - Economy

Sick days and vacations hit businesses this summer

Americans who say they are not working because of <span style="color: #ff4e1f;  font-weight: 900;">COVID-19</span> or <span style="color: #835bff; font-weight: 900;">vacations</span>
Note: Surveys of Americans who say they are not working because they have or are caring for someone with COVID-19 were conducted weekly through July 21, 2020 and biweekly thereafter. Surveys of Americans who are taking vacations from work are conducted monthly. Data: U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

COVID-19 cases are on the rise with extremely transmissible Omicron BA.5 variant, and businesses — already struggling with labor shortages — are dealing with an influx of workers calling out sick.

By the numbers: Between June 29 and July 11, nearly 3.9 million people said they did not work because they were either sick with coronavirus symptoms or were caring for a sick loved one, according to recent Census Bureau data.

The big picture: The BA.5 variant is now the dominant strain in the U.S., is spreading and companies already affected by the pandemic labor shortage may not be able to keep up.

  • Sloan Dean, chief executive at the Dallas-based hotel operator at Remington Hotels Inc., told the Wall Street Journal staff absences due to COVID are up about 50% in recent weeks.
  • Dean told the Journal the company is turning to managers and contractors to make up the gaps.
  • "[L]abor force participation does not match what it was before the pandemic," per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
    • There would be an additional 3.25 million more workers today if "the percentage of people participating in the labor force was the same as in February 2020."
  • There are also more jobs open (11.3 million) than there are unemployed workers (5.9 million).

The summer of "revenge travel" is also upon us, stretching companies even thinner as Americans are now taking vacation more to make up for pandemic-related cancellations.

  • Nearly 4.8 million people took time off during the week that the Census Bureau did its June household survey. During the same period in 2021, around 3.7 million were taking time off.

But, but, but: The summer labor shortage might not be as disruptive to businesses as others caused by earlier virus case surges because now businesses know how to operate with less staff, Nela Richardson, chief economist at payroll processor ADP, told WSJ.

  • “That’s some of the learning that’s gone on,” Richardson said, “almost the expectation that workers will be out because of Covid, and how do you adjust for that?”

Worth noting: Some states have been taking steps to fill the gaping holes in the labor market, including hiring teenagers, increasing pay and creating worker incentives, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

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