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Data: Census; Chart: Axios Visuals

COVID concerns are keeping a growing number of Americans out of the labor market.

Why it matters: The wave of Delta variant infections over the past two months has renewed worker fears, which threatens to exacerbate ongoing labor shortages.

  • It's a reversal from earlier in the summer when the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines enabled employers to fill open jobs for months as workplace safety improved.

By the numbers: According to the Census Household Pulse Survey (conducted Aug. 18-30) released Wednesday, 3.2 million Americans said they were not working because they were "concerned about getting or spreading the coronavirus."

  • This is up from the low of 2.5 million in the July 21 to Aug. 2 survey.
  • The number peaked at 6.24 million in July 2020 but has been trending lower ever since.

Flashback: The U.S. economy added just 235,000 jobs in August, well short of economists’ expectation for 725,000 jobs and a sharp deceleration from the 1.05 million jobs created in July.

  • According to Friday’s report, 5.6 million people said they were "unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic."

The big picture: The Census data confirms the argument that recent weakness in the hiring data is a supply issue, not a deterioration in demand.

  • Indeed, another batch of recent labor market data released Wednesday showed there was a record 10.9 million jobs openings in the U.S. in July.
  • And the Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book, which collects business anecdotes, noted that “Demand for workers continued to strengthen, but all Districts noted extensive labor shortages that were constraining employment and, in many cases, impeding business activity."
  • “Overall demand for workers remains strong, and with cases appearing close to peaking, the Delta surge is only a temporary setback for the labor market’s recovery,” Wells Fargo senior economist Sarah House tells Axios.

Yes, but: “But the effect of the variant could linger and extend into September, depending on how the health situation evolves and if it impacts school reopenings,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, tells Axios.

  • “That will have implications for both labor demand and supply.”

What to watch: Evidence from economic reports and corporate announcements has mostly blamed short-term shortfalls on supply chain issues and labor shortages, which suggests demand is just being delayed. It’ll be a much bigger problem for the economy if demand is actually weakening.

Go deeper

10 hours ago - Health

COVID cases are falling, but deaths are rising

Data: N.Y. Times; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The pace of new coronavirus infections in the U.S. is beginning to slow — a potential sign that the states hit hardest by the Delta wave may be starting to turn things around.

Yes, but: Deaths are still rising, and it’s still too early to know whether schools might drive cases back up again.

19 hours ago - Health

Study: Gaps in data on Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders alarming amid COVID

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest-growing populations, yet data collection on the community at the federal and state levels remains "virtually nonexistent," according to a new study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law.

Why it matters: In 1997, the Office of Management and Budget mandated the disaggregation of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander data from the broader "Asian" category. Yet two decades later, over 30% of federal data sources fail to provide disaggregated NHPI data, a gap that's more pressing than ever due to the pandemic, researchers say.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
9 hours ago - Health

Gottlieb: CDC hampered U.S. response to COVID

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The CDC moved too slowly at several points in the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately hindering the U.S. response, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes in a new book, Uncontrolled Spread.

The big picture: The book argues that American intelligence agencies should have a much bigger role in pandemic preparedness, even if that's sometimes at the expense of public health agencies like the CDC.