One prevailing question is whether employers, as in the past, will look askance at those who have been out of the labor force for a significant time.

Even in a tight labor market, long-term unemployed workers faced a stigma, said Maria Heidkamp, the director of the New Start Career Network, which helps older job seekers in New Jersey.

“In addition to any age, race or gender discrimination that they may already encounter, there’s a lot of evidence that it is easier to get a job if you already have a job,” she said. Though employers may overlook any pandemic résumé gap, she said, “there’s no reason to think that that is going to be different for these people, who are on the sidelines right now who want to come back.”

Still, because of the pandemic’s unique economic impact, many economists believe that the extraordinary number of people who have left the labor force will be more of a temporary blip than emblematic of a deeper structural issue.

“I don’t think overall the U.S. labor force participation rate is going to get stuck at a lower rate,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Already there is evidence that people who left the labor force are returning to work.

Labor participation among young people, which tumbled in the early stages of the pandemic, has rebounded significantly as service industries bounce back.

And as the vaccination rate continues to rise and restrictions on activity lift across the country, many more people who have left the work force are beginning to plot their returns.

Since Heather Kilpatrick lost her job in private-event sales last March, she has spent her days at home in East Boston caring for her daughter, now 3.

Without her additional income, she and her husband, co-owner of a restaurant, could no longer afford day care at the local Y.M.C.A. So although Ms. Kilpatrick, 36, ached to go back to work, she felt as if she were trying to solve a chicken-or-egg dilemma.

“No disrespect to women who want to stay home, but that’s never been me,” she said.

Recently, she finally accepted a part-time job working from home for a restaurant group.

Her job began last week.

Ben Casselman and Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

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