With Covid-19 as the root cause, over the past couple of months there has been at least a decade’s worth of developments in how employers and employees get together.
For a summary, see David Autor’s September 5th New York Times “The Labor Shortage Has Empowered Workers.” This scarcity, if you can even call it that, is not from a lack of people able to take positions – our country’s population growth has slowed, but it is still positive. We have seen a groundswell of potential applicants wanting more money especially for low-level labor, proximately caused by, in Autor’s view, high unemployment benefits, insufficiently available childcare, and simply that “people’s valuation of their own time has changed.” For the first time since the early 1950s, “the U.S. doesn’t have a job quantity problem: instead, it has a job quality problem” (italics his).
That last sentence explains, as well as anything that short could, “Why America has 8.4 million unemployed when there are 10 million job openings” (Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers, and Andrew Van Dam, The Washington Post, September 4th). The first answer the authors gave is that “there is a massive reallocation underway in the economy that’s triggering a “Great Reassessment” of work in America” from both sides, as “the pandemic and all of the anxieties, lockdowns and time at home have changed people.” After learning that the available positions are often in less desirable geographical areas, pay is often below new increased market levels, and many more are in business services and health care than there are unemployed workers with related careers, the disparity makes more sense.
In a USA Today article printed September 5th in the Times Herald-Record, “Labor Dan quiz: When will the worker shortages end?,” Paul Davidson concluded that this real or imagined phenomenon would run until the end of 2023. As he did not mention the frequent need for higher pay, or potential policy-loosening moves, it is an open question how much quicker it could be.
Hiring requirements have changed as well. Per “DealBook: No vaccine, no job” (Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times, August 28th), “the share of job ads that require new hires to be vaccinated have (sic) nearly doubled in the past month.” Some companies make exceptions for remote workers, and companies, especially large ones, have been more hesitant to impose that requirement on existing staff. A more momentous shift has started, also per Davidson from and appearing in the same publications on the same dates, in “No degree? No experience? No problem.” Both requirements are due for frequent elimination, perhaps starting a return to the days when most business positions required no education after high school, and when employers were more willing to leverage the knowledge, as put to me by a career counselor almost forty years ago, that people could be trained for 80% of jobs within three weeks. From an unexpected direction, we discovered that “an Oregon McDonald’s is so desperate for workers it hung a huge banner outside calling on 14-year-olds to apply” (Mary Meisenzahl, Business Insider, August 31st), a tactic matched by at least one Burger King. That, though, brings its own restrictions, as, per the New York Department of Labor as a sample, workers aged 14 and 15 are limited to “a maximum 3-hour day and 18-hour week when school is in session,” with 40 weekly hours allowed only when school is closed “for the entire calendar week.”
Have high unemployment checks held down the numbers of people seeking and accepting work? We are about to conclusively find out, as, as of Labor Day, “Federal Jobless Aid, a Lifeline to Millions, Reaches an End” (Ben Casselman, The New York Times, September 2nd). We should see at least part of this change’s effect in the next set of employment numbers, to be released October 8th and reflecting mid-September survey outcomes.
What changes have been happening on the job? Barring a preemption from urgent news, I will look at those next week.