The national unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and if workers have their way, it could tumble further in the months ahead.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans identifying as unemployed (59%) are seeking a return to full-time work, and more than 1 in 4 (26%) have been looking for jobs for more than a year, according to a new national survey conducted by Jobcase, which provides online listings and other resources to job seekers.
However, some survey respondents remained out of work, they said, because of a lack of opportunity and ever-present concerns over COVID-19. The vast majority also agreed that taking on a job would do more for their income than coronavirus-related unemployment benefits have so far delivered.
Unemployed workers prioritize higher-paying jobs
As workers of many stripes saw their hours and wages cut partially or fully in the pandemic’s throes, it’s no surprise that unemployed people have designs on higher-paying positions. For 41% of respondents, pay was the top consideration during their job search.
Workers’ top considerations when choosing employment
A significant number of respondents looking to rejoin the workforce have faced obstacles, however. Unemployed workers pointed to markers of traditional job markets, such as a lack of connections or skills required for the positions they seek. Another factor may be more specific to their pandemic-affected reality, as 28% said there’s currently a lack of jobs in their area.
Still, about 25% of survey respondents said they’d welcome a work-from-home position, and those who are unemployed aren’t alone in that preference. More than 6 in 10 new homebuyers want to work remotely, according to a May 2021 survey performed by Realtor.com.
COVID-19 continues to factor into employment decisions
While the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly affected the bottom line of employers, it’s also caused concern among would-be employees. More than half (56%) told Jobcase that COVID-19 has impacted their career outlook.
The idea of returning to a physical workplace drew split opinions: Nearly 40% of respondents said they were comfortable going back to work, but 34% of their peers reported uneasiness.
The COVID-19 concerns of unemployed workers considering returning to work
An unemployed worker might be champing at the bit to return to their work life, for example, only to find that their home life is still hampered by COVID-19. In fact, according to a May 2021 survey by Express Employment Professionals, 40% of companies reported employees quitting their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities.
In addition, vaccination is still a divisive potential solution to this problem. Nearly half of respondents to Jobcase’s survey (47%) said they would "probably" or "definitely" get the vaccine, while 53% reported they would "probably not" or "definitely not" sign up for shots.
Unemployed workers motivated to find well-paying jobs
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., spent the better part of 2020 debating unemployment relief, trying to strike a balance between supporting out-of-work residents while still incentivizing them to seek new jobs or return to their original positions.
The CARES Act of March 2020 started a string of relief efforts that saw many Americans receive more unemployment support than their state governments typically grant. However, that aid hasn’t deterred many workers from trying to recoup their hard-earned wages, at least according to the Jobcase survey.
In fact, 93% of respondents said they’re receiving less money on government-subsidized unemployment benefits than they were before the pandemic struck. And as many workers reported not being picky about their next source of employment, 11% said they’d simply accept whatever job pays the highest wages.
Methodology: Jobcase surveyed more than 500 unemployed workers in May 2021 via consumer research technology firm Qualtrics’ survey platform.