What’s stopping unemployed Americans from job hunting?

Key Findings

  • Fear of contracting COVID-19 is the most cited reason among unemployed Americans still not job hunting
  • 1 in 5 Americans still unemployed from pandemic-caused layoffs aren’t looking for work because they don’t want to update their resume
  • 1 in 3 Baby Boomers laid off during the pandemic are choosing retirement over job-hunting

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the worst unemployment crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, the nation’s path to recovery is still anything but straightforward. The most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the economy added more jobs than predicted in June, although unemployment also rose slightly. This has prompted concerns about a labor shortage and raised questions about why unemployed individuals are not seeking jobs.

In May, ResumeBuilder.com asked 1,250 unemployed Americans ages 18 and older who lost their jobs due to the pandemic if they are currently pursuing employment, and if they aren’t, why not.

Fears of contracting COVID-19 top reason for not seeking employment

Overall, 22% of people we surveyed said they are not currently looking for new employment.

When asked why they aren’t seeking employment, concerns about contracting COVID-19 topped the list of reasons, with 31% of these respondents choosing this response. (Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers to this question).

Respondents also say they aren’t applying to jobs because there aren’t any available in their area, an indication of how temporary and permanent COVID-related business closures are affecting the economy. With many daycares and schools also still shuttered, access to childcare is an issue for 23% of respondents.

In a nod to arguments that generous unemployment benefits are keeping people from returning to the workforce, 22% of respondents say they are making more money on unemployment than they would working, and 22% say they are earning as much from unemployment as they would from a job.

However, many individuals also cited an age-old burden when it comes to job-hunting.

Twenty percent of respondents who aren’t looking for a new job say it is because they don’t want to update their resumes, a finding that isn’t surprising to Career Counselor Stacie Haller.

“Developing and updating a resume is a daunting task for most people,” she explains. “Many do not know where to start, what the best format is and how to grab the attention of prospective employers. Many people are also concerned with how to address, or not address, employment gaps, or how to overcome any missteps in the past. It also marks the beginning of a job search, which many find to be stressful and overwhelming.”

Many people are also concerned with how to address, or not address, employment gaps, or how to overcome any missteps in the past

Reluctance to update resumes most common among Gen Xers

When looking at the prevalence of this response by age, individuals ages 45-54 are most reluctant to revise their resumes, with 26% of Gen Xers selecting this option.

According to Haller, for these workers, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to fit decades of work experience into a two-page document.

“Many people feel that their experience is important and they must keep everything they did listed in the hopes that someone will value this dated experience above other candidates,” Haller says. “However, in most cases, this is not true. Employers want your most current demonstrated skills that fit the position to which you are applying. The experience you gained 20 years ago may be irrelevant and outdated in today’s world, and hiring managers will rarely make it to that section of your resume before they are on to the next candidate.”

For these job-seekers, Haller recommends using this as an opportunity to give their resumes a facelift, and make it focus on more recent work experience and responsibilities.


Employers want your most current demonstrated skills that fit the position to which you are applying. The experience you gained 20 years ago may be irrelevant and outdated in today's world.

1/3 of Baby Boomers choose to retire after layoff

Meanwhile, 31% of Americans 54 and older who are still out of work due to a pandemic-caused layoff aren’t planning to go back at all, opting for retirement instead.

Although the idea of an early retirement may appeal to older workers, Haller says that the high percentage of people in this age group exiting the workforce is a sign of factors like ageism coming into play during the pandemic.

“These people were the first to be laid off, as they have typically been the highest earners in an organization and employers assume that they do not have the longevity of younger workers,” Haller says. “Early retirement and taking Social Security as early as possible became a way to navigate during and after COVID.”

Updating your resume made easy

With so much riding on the resume, it’s not surprising that the prospect of updating the document can feel overwhelming. However, there are ways to make it more manageable, including these four tips.

Resume samples for major industries

As the U.S. continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of industries are experiencing a hiring boom, including logistics and transportation; sales, marketing and customer service; healthcare; technology, and construction.

Relevant resume samples for these industries include:



Logistics & Transportation

Sales, Marketing & Customer Service



The data for this study comes from a survey designed and paid for by ResumeBuilder.com. The survey was conducted in partnership with online survey platform Pollfish on May 15, 2021. We surveyed 1,250 Americans 18 and older who are currently unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents were asked how long they have been unemployed, if they are currently seeking new employment, and if not, to identify all the reasons why.

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Stacie Haller

Chief Career Advisor

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Stacie Haller has spent over 30 years in staffing and recruiting with decades of career counseling, job search coaching, recruiting and assisting and mentoring hundreds of candidates in finding their next step in achieving their career goals.