The Associated Press reported that nearly 3 million American workers laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic have stopped looking for work and have yet to resume their job search.

- Advertisement -

Hiring has slowed over the past two months, even as employers posted a nearly record number of job openings. There have also been fewer layoffs, as many businesses are struggling to keep their employees.

- Advertisement -

Economists expected more people to find work in September as schools reopened, childcare shortages eased and increased unemployment aid ended across the US, however, employers added just 194,000 jobs last month.

Businesses are still struggling to find workers as many have either stopped searching or are clamoring for better pay than what pre-pandemic was offering. Employers in many sectors, including health care, are facing severe employee shortages.

- Advertisement -

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since the pandemic began, a sign that the job market is still improving, while recruitment has slowed over the past two months.

The Labor Department said Thursday that unemployment claims fell to 293,000 from 36,000 last week, the second straight decline. This is the smallest number of people applying for benefits since the week of March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified, and the first time claims have fallen below 300,000. Applications for jobless aid, which typically track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily since last spring, as many businesses, struggling to fill jobs, laid off their workforce.

In a bright spot, the unemployment rate fell from 5.2 percent to 4.8 percent, although some of that decline occurred because many people out of work stopped looking for jobs, and were no longer counted as unemployed. The proportion of women working or looking for work fell in September, possibly because of difficulties finding child care or schools disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Also, Americans are leaving their jobs in record numbers, with about 3 percent of workers doing so in August. Workers are especially likely to quit their jobs in restaurants, bars and hotels over fears of the Delta version of COVID-19, which was still spreading rapidly in August.

Other workers are likely to leave to take advantage of the higher wages offered by businesses with open positions. Average hourly wages rose a healthy 4.6 percent in September compared to a year earlier, and wage gains for restaurant workers topped 10 percent in the past year.

The number of people receiving unemployment assistance has also declined sharply, mostly after the two emergency jobless assistance programs ended. In the week ending September 25, the latest data available, 3.6 million people received some kind of jobless aid, far less than the previous week’s 4.2 million. A year ago, about 25 million people were receiving benefits.

Emergency programs provided unemployment payments for the first time to self-employed and gig workers, and those who had been out of work for more than six months. More than 7 million Americans lost weekly financial aid when those two programs expired on September 6. An additional $300 in federal jobless aid also ended that week.

Several business executives and Republican politicians said the extra $300 was discouraging those out of work from taking up jobs. Yet in about half of the states, additional checks were cut in mid-June, and those states haven’t seen job growth faster than profit-making states.