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Millions of people left the workforce during the pandemic. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the new vaccine rules could help close the gap.

U.S. job growth soared in October
U.S. job growth soared in October 05:57

The U.S. added more than half a million jobs in October, but the share of people working still lags several percentage points behind pre-pandemic figures. In an interview Friday with CBS News, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh pointed to some 3.8 million people who reported last month they had not been able to come back to the workforce because of COVID-19. 

Businesses continue to see workforce shortages despite climbing vaccination rates, and the country is now facing what's been dubbed the "Great Resignation" as millions of workers quit their jobs in recent months. 

New rules unveiled Thursday by the Biden Administration require companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is vaccinated or conduct weekly testing. 

"I don't see how it hurts the economy," Walsh told CBS News. "I think what it does, it creates a safe work environment for people to want to come back to work." 

Walsh said new workplace safety standards could help bring back people not working due to the pandemic, because he thinks they won't come back until they feel safe — and could bring back some of the labor force who retired early due to COVID-19. Last year saw an acceleration of Baby Boomers retiring over 2019 amid the pandemic. 

"I think part of that group is within the 3.8 million of people saying 'I'm concerned about COVID, I'm close to retirement, I might just decide to pull my papers now,' when in fact if they feel comfortable, they'll come back into the workforce," Walsh said. 

Walsh said one good sign in Friday's report was more women returning to the workforce. More than half the jobs gained last month, 304,000, were among women, according to the National Women's Law Center. Women's workforce participation ticked up slightly.

"To me it showed that as school started, more people did come into the workforce and it did show that we still have some glaring issues that we have to deal with," Walsh said.

Despite last month's increase in women's workforce participation, it still remains below pre-pandemic levels. The rate has not been this low in more than 30 years.

The United States still is missing 1 in 10 child care workers from before the pandemic, and employment in the sector saw almost no change over the past month. 

Child care is one of the issues the Biden administration is aiming to address in their Build Back Better agenda. Democratic leadership has been pushing for a vote on the bill in the House as early as Friday.

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