Investor Alert

The Big Number

Jan. 22, 2022, 2:26 p.m. EST

A record 8.75 million people missed work because COVID is in their house

By Rex Nutting

Today’s big number is 8.75 million.

That’s the number of jobholders who said they called in sick in early January because they had COVID symptoms or who missed work because they were caring for a COVID patient, according to a weekly survey of Americans conducted by the Census Bureau . That’s the highest total since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Millions more aren’t working because they’re scared that they might get or spread the viral disease, because they need to care for children or elderly relatives, or because their job has disappeared due to the pandemic, the survey indicates.

The spike in COVID cases is likely to reduce nonfarm payrolls in the January report, said Neil Dutta, head of economics at RenMac Research. “Think of this like a badweather event and note that case growth in the U.S. has already started to moderate,” he wrote in an email to clients.

Now read: Omicron, high inflation, worried consumers: Just how bad is it for the economy?

The graph shows the household pulse survey data for the week in each month that corresponds to the week that the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys households and businesses for the monthly employment report. The BLS counts people who are paid for sick leave as employed in the nonfarm payrolls survey even if they missed work for an entire pay period. But many workers do not get sick leave pay, and they would therefore not be counted as employed in the nonfarm payrolls survey, but would be counted as employed in the separate household survey (which determines the unemployment rate).

The spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus between early December and early January is clearly visible in the data, with more temporary job disruptions due to COVID in the first weeks of January compared with the same time period in previous months.

In early July, nearly 10.5 million people who missed work due to COVID had lost their jobs — either temporarily or permanently — as businesses laid off workers or shuttered their doors. By contrast, the number of jobholders who missed work due to illness in their own home was less than 2 million.

As the Delta variant took hold during the late summer and autumn, the wave of illnesses rose even as furloughs or permanent job losses declined.

Breaking news: U.S. jobless claims jump 55,000 to three-month high of 286,000 as omicron bites

And then omicron took hold in late December and early January. In the latest weekly survey, 8.75 million were out of work because they or a loved one was sick with COVID, 7.1 million were disabled or sick with something other than COVID, 6.9 million had lost their job because of the pandemic, 5.3 million didn’t go to work because they were caring for children not in school or daycare, 3.2 million stayed away from the job because they were worried they might get or spread COVID, 2 million were caring for an elderly person, and 41 million were retired.

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