DES MOINES — While Iowa’s economy is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic in some ways, at least one significant pocket of disruption remains: in the state’s workforce, where thousands of Iowans are continuing to choose to remain at home rather than going to work.
Economic experts say the reasons are not yet clear. But whatever the motivation, tens of thousands of Iowans have not returned to work since the state began hemorrhaging employees at the onset of the pandemic last year.
There were 1,518,400 workers in Iowa’s non-farm workforce in May, the most recent month for which state workforce department data is available. That’s a significant rebound from where the state bottomed out during the worst of the pandemic — but it’s still 73,200 workers shy of the state workforce’s pre-pandemic level from February 2020.
“We have many people in Iowa who have chosen to sit on the sidelines, either because of COVID and illness, because of family responsibilities, they didn’t like the kind of work that was being offered in light of the pandemic … or we don’t know why,” said Dave Swenson, an economics professor at Iowa State University. “What we do know is that we don’t know exactly who these people were. We don’t know who they were and why they checked out.”
The issue is not unique to Iowa. There were just over 161 million people in the U.S. workforce in June, roughly 3 million fewer than the more than 164 million in February 2020, according to federal labor statistics.
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