December 02, 2021


Large portions of the previously employed indicate that they are not actively looking for work and may not return to the workforce for 6 months or more

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Less than half of Americans polled who lost their job during the pandemic and remain unemployed say they are actively and consistently looking for work, with one in five reporting that they are not looking for work at all, according to a new poll released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Fifty-six percent report that they believe they can get by for more than six months before it becomes essential to return to full time work, with 11 percent saying it will be more than a year before it is necessary to return to work, and 15 percent saying it will never be essential.

The poll comes as businesses continue to grapple with an ongoing worker shortage crisis. The country currently has 10.4 million open jobs, and the quit rate reached an all-time high at 3 percent in September, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Tomorrow, new jobs numbers for November will be released, and the U.S. Chamber will look closely at the workforce participation rate. There were 2.3 million fewer people in the workforce in October than there were in October of 2019, before the pandemic.

“Every day, we see more evidence of a worsening worker shortage,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne P. Clark. “With businesses across the country and in every industry struggling to find workers, it is deeply concerning that 35% of the unemployed say they are not very active in looking for work—or not looking at all. Policymakers at every level of government must act with urgency to get people back to work and help accelerate the economic recovery.”

Additional analysis by the U.S. Chamber found that quit rates were highest in accommodation and food service (6.6%); and in arts, entertainment and recreation service (5.7%). States with the largest drop in labor force participation rates since the start of the pandemic were Vermont (-4.7 percentage points), Nevada (-3.8) and Connecticut (-3.4).

The Chamber’s poll of unemployed workers found that:

  • More than one in ten (13%) have left multiple jobs during the pandemic.
  • Among those who have held multiple jobs since April 2020, 57% held their most recent position for three months or less.
  • Nearly a third (32%) of unemployed workers said they would prefer to work in a different industry for their next job.

“It is increasingly clear that the workforce challenges facing our country extend beyond those induced by the pandemic and we cannot simply assume that people will return to the workforce,” said Clark. “Our continued recovery and future prosperity requires that policymakers focus on how we expand the labor force, including through addressing barriers to employment, rightsizing and targeting government benefits, and attracting more qualified workers by doubling the cap on employment-based visas.”

The formerly employed report using a combination of income sources from other members of their household (45%), stimulus payments received during the pandemic (48%), savings (47%), and unemployment benefits (36%) to get by. One-third of the formerly employed disagree with the statement that “it is essential to return to a full-time job as soon as possible.”

Read the full COVID-19 Unemployed report


The poll of 529 Americans who lost jobs during the pandemic and have not returned to full-time employment was taken November 2-9, 2021. The poll has an overall survey margin of error +/-4.3% at the 95% confidence level, with Stable and Projectable bases quotated across age, prior total compensation, ethnicity, incidence of children at home, industry sector and educational attainment. For this wave of research, respondents over the age of 65 were excluded from the study.

About America Works

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s America Works initiative is 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