The share of Americans working from home is down by half from the peak

Back in the office.
Back in the office.
Image: Reuters/Noah Berger
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A sharp decline in covid-19 cases is making US workers more confident.

The share of workers working from home because of covid-19 dropped to 11.6%, down from its peak of 23.7% in December 2020, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. Workers’ return to the office was part of an overall strong labor market report that showed the US added 531,000 jobs in October, beating economists’ forecasts of 450,000. The agency also revised disappointing job numbers from the previous two months up by 235,000.

The report largely illustrates what some economists have been harping on for months: The path of the pandemic will determine the path of the US recovery.  Big job gains in the restaurant industry, business services, and manufacturing suggest business is revving up. But October’s figures also point to snags in the recovery, including the 4.2 million workers who remain unemployed.

Many workers remain on the sidelines

Despite the solid job gains, the labor force participation rate, the percentage of people employed or looking for work, remained flat at 61.6%. While the participation of people between 25 and 54 ticked up by .1%, a record number of retirements may be weighing down on the overall rate.

Women, too, are yet to return to work at the same rate as before the pandemic, with their unemployment rate inching up to 4.4% from 4.2% in September. That may be because sectors families rely on for childcare duties are still understaffed. The public education and childcare sectors are still missing 5% and 10% of the workers they had before the pandemic, respectively, said labor economist Betsey Stevenson.