Fear of COVID Is Keeping the Vaxxed Out of the Workforce

Off the Charts: The Visual Says It All

Female Worker Disinfecting Counter

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Nearly two years into the pandemic, vaccinated adults continue to lag the unvaccinated in working or looking for work, and that gap is widening with worries about the fast spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, according to a new survey.

The labor force participation rate, or the percentage of adults either working or looking for work, has remained stubbornly low during the economic recovery, but was trending higher for both groups since September, as the delta wave subsided. But the groups diverged in early December, as data from Morning Consult shows, soon after the World Health Organization declared omicron a “variant of concern.”

It may sound counterintuitive that vaccinated people would be less likely to go to work than the unvaccinated—vaccines should make people feel safer from COVID-19, after all, and give them the freedom to go out without worrying. As it turns out, though, that line of thinking isn’t completely accurate.

Vaccinated adults tend to be more concerned than the unvaccinated about the virus, according to Morning Consult, which spurs them to get the jab in the first place. But it also causes them to worry more about the risks of being in the workplace. And the ranks of the vaccinated skew older, so there are many among them who wouldn’t be working or looking for work anyway because they are over 65. 

On the other hand, “People who are not vaccinated don’t believe the health risks associated with the pandemic are real,” John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult, said. “So even as cases surge, they’re less likely to drop out of the labor force.” 

So what will it take to boost the overall labor force participation rate? “A good economy will drive more and more people to look for work,” Leer said, noting that it also has to be a situation that people feel comfortable in and that won’t shut down, even if COVID-19 cases are rising. That will likely be a result of more vaccinations, Morning Consult said.

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Medora at medoralee@thebalance.com.

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  1. World Health Organization. “Update on Omicron.”

  2. Morning Consult. “Looking Ahead in 2022: Economic Challenges for the New Year.”

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