At the risk of stating the obvious, the pandemic has changed the way people work — not only in terms of the kind of jobs available, but also the way folks want to or can work. Case in point: there are approximately 10 million jobs available but more than 8.4 million unemployed people are still actively seeking employment.
According to the latest Labor Department’s job opening and labor turnover (JOLT) report, there were 10.4 million available jobs as of the end of August — down from the record number of 10.9 million available jobs as of the end of July — which is still higher than the prior record of 10.1 million available jobs in June.
In case you prefer your statistics restated in baby language, that means that employers want workers but are struggling to add back jobs it lost during the pandemic — which is concerning because the recovery in the labor market was already meh. (Yes, that’s the official term.)
Why is there such a disconnect between the jobs available and the people to potentially fill those posts? Especially since if we looked only at the number of open positions, it can seem as if we’re in the midst of a market-boom instead of a sluggish recovery. Everywhere you look, you see “help wanted” signs and business owners complaining that they’re severely understaffed.
What is going on?
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. Though COVID-19 hospitalization rates are down 64% from the peak in January, keep in mind that was before the COVID vaccine was free and widely available — and we’re still a far cry from the low in July. The surge in Delta variant infections (which accounts for greater than 99% of all new cases) is affecting the labor market, threatening another shutdown to businesses that have barely just reopened and have yet to recover.
Sidebar: if you have not yet gotten your COVID vaccine, please get it before the winter and flu season hit. It will be difficult for me to feel sorry for you if you are unvaccinated. After all, folks who aren’t fully vaccinated are 5 times more likely to get infected, 10 times more likely to get hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die.
Plus, ongoing problems like child care shortages continue to affect the labor supply. Many schools and after-school programs and daycare facilities have not re-opened, are shut down due to outbreaks, or cannot operate at full capacity due to COVID guidelines and restrictions. Many people who would like to be employed are unable to work due to needing someone to watch and care for their kids.
In addition, last month, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Jim Bullard told the Financial Times that “the jobs are there, it’s that the workers may not want to take those jobs right now.” Bullard added that thanks to stimulus checks and historically high savings rates, “households are flush with income.” However, the unemployment benefits from pandemic relief would be ending soon and people would be encouraged to find work.
That, however, has not happened.
Maybe workers don’t want to put up with crappy jobs anymore
The way some news outlets make it out to be, everyone — from the White House to big corporations to major businesses — just can’t figure out why people aren’t returning to these shitty jobs that keep staying open.
Like, maybe it’s not that people don’t want to work, but with a surplus of job openings, they don’t want to work for industries notorious for terrible work-life balance, low appreciation, and high abuse from customers.
Quit rates for August 2021 were at an all-time high of 2.9%, with quit rates reaching historic highs in industries like leisure and hospitality — leading the pack at 6.2% — and in trade, transportation, and utilities at 3.7%. Over half a million health care workers quit their jobs in August — up from 404,000 the previous August — and another 892,000 (up from 735,000 in July) accommodation and food services workers quit, too.
And is it any wonder folks are quitting healthcare in droves? From the massive burnout experienced by doctors, nurses, and staff, to the willful stupidity of a public that refuses to adhere to proven methods (such as vaccinations) to keep from overwhelming our medical infrastructure, I don’t blame them. (I’m also even more grateful to everyone in the medical field — past, present, or future. Thank you.)
Also, given that over 70% of female restaurant workers have been sexually harassed on the job, and that food service is most assuredly undervalued, underpaid, and rife with poor working conditions, of course their quit rate in August was a whopping 7%.
People really can’t be surprised that folks do not want to deal with shitty jobs anymore, right?
What can be done?
Look, I don’t claim to be some economist or labor expert, but, uh, maybe — now work with me here (yes, yes, pun intended) — maybe if many of these unfilled jobs paid living wages, offered adequate healthcare and additional benefits like retirement, allowed unions to advocate for workers’ rights, and had (and applied) protections for the workers, then, maybe, there would be more demand?
If you personally happen to be in a position of power and creating jobs and have some say over pay and benefits, then you may want to do some soul-searching and hardcore evaluations as to why you may be having an employee shortage. But short of sweeping labor reform, I don’t know that there is any way you can force people back to working jobs they feel are abusive.
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