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In the Know column: Why aren't jobs getting filled?

Initially many thought that the extra employment insurance benefits included in legislation in 2020 to keep the economy from tanking were the culprit

By John Stone

Some of the most puzzling aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been issues with employment.

There are still nearly two million fewer people employed than there were in February 2020 and yet businesses just about everywhere have “help wanted” signs hanging in their windows.

Initially many thought that the extra employment insurance benefits included in legislation in 2020 to keep the economy from tanking were the culprit. People were able to collect not only their state unemployment insurance but an additional $600 per week from the federal government. This extra amount was lowered this year and then ended on Sept. 6.

Some states thought that the extra federal addition was the cause of people not returning to work, and there are some anecdotal instances where this was surely the case. They ended participation in the federal program early.

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But something bigger was going on that was less obvious and there have been a number of analyses that look at different aspects of this issue. And it is indeed complicated.

Last week an Associated Press report pointed out that in August, 4.3 million people, nearly 3% percent of the workforce, quit jobs.

At the same time the number of jobs available fell to 10.4 million from a record high of 11.1 million in July.

And yet in September, only 194,000 jobs were added, which was well below what economists expected, but the unemployment rate fell from 5.2% to 4.8%.

That hiring figure is after retirements, quits and layoffs.

If all that is happening, the only explanation is that people are leaving the workforce.

It is estimated that over two million baby boomers have left the workforce in the past year and a half earlier than was expected. These are folks close to retirement age who decided to go ahead and retire earlier than they had previously planned.

There are people who left the work force because of child care issues. Many child care providers closed for COVID reasons last year and some have not reopened. Parents who could deal with that last year by working from home now have a different issue as they are supposed to return to the office or workplace.

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Many hospitality workers were part of the August numbers because of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is many times more contagious than the earlier version. Nearly 900,000 people left jobs in restaurants, bars and hotels, up 21% from July. However, in many other fields such as manufacturing, there was little or no change in quits. Some feel that fear of the virus is a factor for these people who deal closely with the general public.

Still another of the quit issues are people who left jobs for other jobs with higher pay. Employers have raised wages significantly to fill positions so some are following the dollar.

So there is no one, single, resolution to the jobs issue that is really hampering business other than getting the coronavirus under control so people feel safe and valued at work.

John Stone is the former mayor of Glenwood and former publisher of the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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