Wanted: Eight Million Employees
In this last year and a half “infected” with coronavirus, it seemed that we had run out of capacity for surprises. But we did not. The world continues to take unpredictable turns. One of the most striking ones is the fact that, in the United States, a country with almost 39 million people unemployed - and rising unemployment rates - employers have been looking for people to fill eight million vacant jobs for some time now but cannot find the workers willing to take them.
“Pay them more, pay them more,” President Joe Biden said last spring when asked about the nationwide labor shortage at a public appearance. Unfortunately, the situation is truly unusual. Especially amid an economic recovery from the “slowdown” caused by the Covid pandemic.
President Biden’s words were aimed at employers who argued that the lack of workers looking for job placements was due to the “generous supplement” of $300 more per week, until next September, in unemployment benefits. A supplement that has angered Republicans.
The money is part of the $1.9 trillion that President Biden signed in March as part of his stimulus and economic aid policy (American Rescue Plan and Act of 2021). But, unfortunately, numerous conservative states (almost twenty) decided to leave without this supplemental and extra help to their unemployed.
More job offers
According to some sources, job offers have soared by 30% to 40% in the United States, which means that there are now even more jobs available than before the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, the labor force has dropped by more than two points (about three million people) in recent months. There are now seven million fewer employees than in February 2020 (a 5% drop), when there was still no health crisis.
The country is now experiencing this debate: to help the unemployed or not to help? Wall Street predicted in April that almost one million new contracts would be reached. But the figure stood at 266,000 that month and rose only to 559,000 last May, still below expectations of “almost a million.”
However, this data contrasts with the official report that there are more than eight million job vacancies and employers are looking for employees to fill them. Some recruitment agencies go further and claim to have as many as 16 million unfilled positions.
According to Morgan Stanley, the unemployment benefits supplement “is no more important a factor than other impediments to re-entry into the workforce” and a Microsoft study concludes that four out of ten workers are considering leaving their jobs.
Fear of the virus?
Some justify the shortage of people willing to work by fear of the coronavirus. They argue that states with vaccination rates below 30% have more job vacancies than states with more widespread vaccination.
Another argument is that many women have left the workforce and stayed home because of the effect of the pandemic and school closures. Others claim that having done their work remotely, they are no longer willing to return to the office, because they have discovered that there is more to life than work and, since they have savings from having been away for a long time, they have decided to enjoy themselves before returning.
Some people have opted to further their education or start their own business. For example, the request for licenses to become real estate agents has skyrocketed.
Another major reason is that many Americans have opted to take early retirement, given the layoffs and temporary closures at their companies during the worst times of the pandemic, with the resulting job uncertainty. In addition, the training of new workers to replace them has been slowed by the restrictions and they have not yet finished preparing to fill the vacant positions.
Finally, those who believe that unemployed people prefer to remain unemployed rather than work, because they have become accustomed to living on the subsidy, are also right.
To all of the above must be added an unfortunate situation: small and medium-sized local business owners receive economic aid that is not really intended for them, but for their workers. In other words, they are being turned into administrators of state subsidies, with only a few of these small businesses qualifying for extra limited assistance from the government under ARPA.
With no help for their businesses, and with jobs to fill because the unemployed do not want to work in them, the question is: how is this country going to be able to raise its (economic) head and return to leading world progress if it does not take care of its middle classes, owners of small businesses that cannot get off the ground for lack of labor force or the necesary economic support to continue operating?