As the U.S. economy continues to rebound, some employers are struggling to hire workers, forcing restaurants to shutter dining rooms or cut hours. Potential causes of the worker shortage have sparked no end of debate. Some blame generous unemployment benefits, while others point to a lack of child care and early retirements.

Now there’s another twist that could deter Americans from seeking work: Renewed fear over contracting or spreading COVID-19 as the Delta variant sparks outbreaks, including breakthrough cases, across the nation. About 3.2 million Americans told the Census Bureau that they weren’t employed from between August 2 and August 16 because of concerns about the virus, up 30% from the previous polling period over the last two weeks of July.

To be sure, that’s only a small share of the overall ranks of unemployed Americans, who amounted to more than 100 million as of the most recent Census survey. The bulk of those without jobs — more than 42 million people — said they were retired, according the survey. But the number of people staying out of the job market due to COVID-19 anxiety now exceeds the 2.5 million people who said they aren’t working because their employer closed temporarily due to the pandemic.

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