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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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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

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: You can start ordering free COVID tests Wednesday — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy — Biden deploying military medical staff to help overwhelmed hospitals.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— Nurses across the U.S. strike against COVID working conditions— CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: Biden admin threatens to take back Arizona's COVID aid over anti-mask rules — Students across U.S. walkout of classes to demand safer COVID protocols — West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Dec 17, 2021 - Health

Weight of COVID pushing health care workforce to breaking point

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New waves of COVID infections are crashing into a health care system whose workers are at a breaking point — if not already past it.

Why it matters: Hospital workers have had little relief from COVID over the past two years. And that burned-out, dispirited workforce is again being overwhelmed by surges from Delta, while facing the specter of yet another wave from Omicron.

Updated Dec 17, 2021 - Health

New York City braces for another coronavirus surge

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New York City — America's original pandemic epicenter — is displaying warning signs of yet another drastic surge of the virus, this time likely driven by the Omicron variant.

Why it matters: Given how quickly the variant appears to spread, New York's experience will likely be replicated around the country. But this time, the city has the benefit of an above-average vaccination rate to help it avoid becoming a worst-case scenario.