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New U.S. Chamber poll of unemployed Americans reveals return-to-work barriers, mounting workforce crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic and remain unemployed today never expect to return to work, and among those who do plan to return, steep barriers stand in the way, according to a new poll released recently by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—and new federal data show 9.3 million Americans remain unemployed.

“We have 9.3 unemployed Americans and 8 million unfilled jobs. We have to do a better job filling these open jobs,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said. “This new poll shows that barriers like inflated unemployment benefits, lack of childcare access, skills gaps, and an overall lack of available workers are exacerbating this challenge for workers and employers across America.”

Bradley added: “We call on elected leaders at the federal and state level to take immediate action to address this workforce crisis, beginning with increasing access to affordable childcare, investing in rapid job skilling, and rightsizing unemployment benefits.”

The new poll shows that 30 percent do not expect to return to work any time this year, with nearly half of those (13 percent of the total) saying they never expect to return to work. Extrapolated to 9.3 million unemployed Americans reported today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s an estimated 2.8 million people who will remain on the sidelines this year, 1.2 million of whom never expect to return to work.

For those planning to return, the poll reveals significant barriers. Notably, one in six (16%) who lost jobs during the pandemic and are not currently seeking work say it’s “not worth” searching for a job because of the money they currently earn from unemployment benefits. Others report lack of childcare and insufficient skills for in-demand jobs as deterrents to reentering the workforce. 

Key findings include:

  • Half (49%) of Americans who lost their job during the pandemic report they are not active at all or not very active in searching for new employment. Less than a third (32%) report that they are strongly active in their job search.
  •  Six in 10 respondents (61%) say they are in no hurry to return to work. Three in 10 (30%) say they do not expect to return to work this year, with more than half of those (13% of the total) saying they never plan to return to work.
  •  One in eight (13%) who became unemployed during the pandemic and remain unemployed have turned down at least one job offer in the past year.
  • One in six (16%) not actively seeking work say the amount of money they are receiving from unemployment benefits and government programs makes it “not worth looking” for jobs. Even more—28 percent of all respondents—agree that “there are a lot of people who are not looking for work because they can do almost or just as well collecting unemployment benefits.”
  • Other common factors contributing to unemployed Americans not looking for work include childcare and other family care needs (24%), a lack of available jobs due in sectors that are still suffering (28%), and COVID-19 concerns (26%).
  • One in four survey respondents (23%) say they lack the skills or experience necessary for most of the jobs available right now.

Click here to download the full report

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation this week launched America Works, a nationwide initiative mobilizing industry and government to swiftly address America’s deepening worker shortage crisis. Discover workforce solutions, find additional research and analysis, and explore the full America Works policy agenda at uschamber.com/work.

The poll of 506 Americans who lost jobs during the pandemic and have not returned to full-time employment was taken May 17-20. The poll has an overall survey margin of error +/-4.4 at the 95% confidence level, with stable and projectable bases across age, prior total compensation, ethnicity, incidence of children at home, industry sector and educational attainment. 

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