Read Stateline coverage of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A record number of job openings and fewer workers to fill them have left 42 states with more jobs available than people looking for work, according to a Stateline analysis of federal statistics for August, the latest available.
Employers like RF Buche, who runs a 116-year-old family-owned chain of fast food restaurants and convenience stores in South Dakota, are scrambling to fill shifts and cutting store hours because ‘they can’t find enough help.
“I’m more concerned about burnout than anything else, people who work extra shifts,” Buche said. “It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in this business my whole life.”
The labor shortage, by its most acute measure since 1968, means higher wages and increased bargaining power for workers. But some experts fear it will also dampen economic growth as the country struggles to recover from the pandemic. And that could make it more difficult to implement the Congress-approved $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which the White House says is expected to create millions of jobs in areas such as construction and construction. trucking.
South Dakota, where Buche seeks workers, has one of the highest ratios of vacancies to unemployed people likely to fill them: there are almost two vacancies for every unemployed person seeking employment. a job.
The job-to-unemployed ratio is nearly 3 to 1 in Nebraska and more than 2 to 1 in Utah, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, Georgia, Alabama and Montana. In most states, the ratio is higher now than it was before the pandemic.
There are only eight states with more unemployed than job vacancies: Hawaii, followed by California, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Nevada . Hawaii and Nevada rely heavily on tourism, which has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels. That could change as the United States reopens its borders to vaccinated international travelers.
Most states with more unemployed than jobs have many white collar positions that allow people to work remotely. The labor shortage is most acute in sectors where wages are relatively low and public contacts high, such as transport, restaurants and hotels.
There is a growing shortage of essential services in many states and cities.
Some towns in Massachusetts, for example, are offering snow plow operators up to $ 310 an hour amid fierce competition for commercial drivers. Firefighters and paid doctors are scarce in parts of Virginia. A shortage of workers has resulted in longer waits for public buses in St. Louis and fewer menu options in Utah school cafeterias.
While the national unemployment rate fell to 4.6% in October, this is not true for all groups, according to estimates for the third quarter of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, DC. Black workers still face double-digit unemployment in Illinois (10.8%) and California (10.4%), and Hispanic unemployment in New York City is 10.7%.
“This raises the question: ‘Are the hiring pools of these employers as diverse as they could be?’ Said Kyle Moore, economist at the institute. “When the wages are high enough and people are happy with safety provisions like protective gear, they will take these jobs.”
In South Dakota, Buche faces a shortfall of about 55 of the 416 teams he needs most weeks at his convenience stores and restaurants.
He attributes half of that shortfall to hiring problems, but he said the other half came from part-time workers who don’t want more work and don’t need the money because they don’t. splurges for extras such as movies and restaurants.
“We are losing a lot because of COVID fears. They are not the main breadwinners and they think, “Hey, I’m going to stay home.” They could get away with it financially without major problems, ”said Buche. He said his jobs pay more than minimum wage and he recently tried offering $ 2,000 signing bonuses and employee meal discounts.
Some experts see the shortage of volunteer workers as a sign that the trauma of the pandemic has caused people to re-evaluate their career choices, making them less willing to tolerate low wages and unpredictable hours.
“A lot of companies are being created for an economy where there are a lot of people who are willing to take minimum wage jobs with irregular hours,” said Matt Darling, employment policy researcher at the Niskanen Center, a Washington, DC based think tank “These companies are set up for a strategy that no longer works.”
Although they offer higher wages, better benefits, and more flexibility, many Kentucky employers “still struggle to find workers, or even candidates,” said Charles Aull, senior policy analyst for the Company. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Kentucky, which has two vacancies for every potential worker, struggles with declining labor force participation rate since 2000, according to a September report from the Kentucky Chamber Foundation. This coincides with a free fall in the state’s coal production, which once provided relatively well-paying jobs.
“The pandemic and the economic recovery have accelerated pre-existing trends and amplified our weak spots,” the report concludes.
Darling said factors such as lower immigration, more workers taking early retirement and generous unemployment benefits have all contributed to the labor shortage. But he pointed out that although the overall labor force participation rate is declining, the participation rate of the “middle-aged” workforce, aged 25 to 54, has returned to its normal level. from 2017.
“Unemployment insurance wasn’t holding back the workforce, it was COVID,” Darling said. He added that he stood by an article published in October by Niskanen saying: “Crowded harbors and ‘for hire’ signs are the growing pains associated with entering an era of plenty.”
Other experts also see openings as a temporary problem in an improving economy. Mary C. Daly, chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, predicted in a blog post that many people who are reluctant to return to work now will return to the workforce as the pandemic recedes.
“A myriad of factors are tempering the labor supply right now – the need to care for children, fears of COVID, generous unemployment benefits,” Daly wrote. “But there is no reason to expect these to be permanent … the lesson is simple: Americans want to work, and it would be wrong to assume otherwise.”
In South Dakota, where there were 1.6 job openings for every unemployed person the month before the pandemic began, some employers want to attract more workers from other states. The South Dakota Retailers Association is offering $ 1,000 to anyone who moves to the state and holds a job for at least three months.
The bounty could pay off in places like North Sioux City, a South Dakota suburb of Sioux City, Iowa, where it might be relatively easy to change states, said Nathan Sanderson, executive director of the association of retail. The state’s low cost of living and lack of income tax could also attract young families.
“Most of the places where there are jobs here would be great places to live, work and raise a family,” Sanderson said.
Some lawmakers on both sides are calling for more immigration to replenish declining communities that have factories, farms and nurseries desperate for manual labor.
In states like South Dakota and Nebraska, immigrants make up a large portion of the workforce at meat-packing plants, which have continued to weather the pandemic to protect the food supply and have often experienced large outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Everyone is yelling and yelling about the acute nature of the labor shortage at the bottom of the ladder, and they see immigrants at the border ready to work and we need them,” Bob said. Worsley, a former Republican Senator from Arizona who spoke at a recent immigration conference sponsored by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC
Worsley cited the woes of an Idaho asparagus farmer who urged people to pluck his harvest for their own use in April when immigrant workers failed to materialize.
“We need immigrants and we need to treat them properly,” Worsley said. “We have mistreated them for decades, whenever we have allowed immigrants to come in and solve our workforce problems. It goes back to the Irish.