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Omicron continued to disrupt work and families’ lives even as Covid-19 cases dropped

Millions of Americans remained out of work because they or a loved one were sick with coronavirus symptoms in late January and early February, even as the number of cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 fell.

Some 7.8 million people pointed to Covid-19 symptoms as the reason they were not at their jobs, according to the latest US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, conducted between January 26 and February 7.



While that’s down from a record 8.8 million a month earlier, when Omicron cases were surging, it’s still higher than at any other point since the survey began asking similar questions at the start of the pandemic.

The average number of new Covid-19 cases reported daily in the US topped 800,000 in the middle of January, but that number dropped to 270,000 by February 7, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Overall, the number of Americans who said they weren’t working for a variety of reasons fell by 5 million to 102 million in the latest Census survey, a promising sign, said Elise Gould, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Returning to work typically lags a decline in case counts because many people have to stay home for a few days after testing positive.

“I feel we’ve really turned the corner,” she said. “I expect more promising news ahead in the next jobs report.”

 

Child care issues continue

Parents of young children, however, continued to struggle with child care, the latest Census survey found.

Some 42.4% of adults lived in households where children under 5 were unable to attend day care or another child care arrangement in the last four weeks, according to the survey. That compares with 37.9% a month earlier.

Experts aren’t quite sure of the reason for the jump, but they suspect that children’s exposure to the Omicron variant may be to blame. The surge has been tougher for child care centers than for schools since young children can’t be vaccinated yet and providers don’t have the same access to testing that schools do, said Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation.

“When there’s any possible exposure, they are still shutting down,” said Kashen, noting that many providers are also contending with major labor shortages. “There are some that are having to shut down or close temporarily because they don’t have safe staffing ratios.”

 

Financial hardship continues

More parents were finding it harder to pay their bills, too.

The share of adults in households with children where it has been difficult to pay for usual household expenses in the last seven days rose to 39.7%, up from 37.6% a month earlier, said Claire Zippel, senior research analyst at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which has been tracking the Census surveys. The measure has been ticking up in recent months.

“It’s a sign that families with kids are continuing to face these financial strains,” she said. “The advanced child tax credits were giving folks some degree of a buffer, but those have now expired.”

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