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Cracking the case of our current employment crisis

"Everybody’s quick to say, ‘Wow, the economy is rebounding.’ Well, it can’t without human beings.” - Ann Silver, Reno, Nevada Chamber of Commerce

Humans are inextricably drawn to mysteries. Among the most intriguing are populations that seemed to vanish from the earth. Even when they're solved, the fascination remains.

For instance, whatever happened to the dinosaurs?

Why are the honeybees vanishing, threatening the viability of global agriculture?

What happened to the English settlers of the 16th century Roanoke Colony?

What about all those ships and planes that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle?

Some of the world's most famous mysteries.

And today, where is the American worker?

Examples abound. Half empty restaurants, not for lack of demand, but because there aren’t enough servers and kitchen staff. Teachers scrubbing and sanitizing their classrooms since custodians are scarce. School districts, including St. Louis Public Schools, are struggling to find teachers in the first place, not to mention school bus drivers. Small business owners working overtime and manning their own cash registers, unable to find workers to assist. Companies are implementing hiring incentives, from higher pay to pet insurance, to attract those elusive job candidates.

A Washington, DC restaurant patio remains empty due to lack of staffing. Courtesy: WUSA

And don’t even get me started on the scarcity of childcare. This past week, our nanny reneged on her commitment to work – on a night we are literally raising money for Leukemia, a disease that has personally impacted our family. Her reason? Too much school work. But then she changed her tune and offered to work those nights – if we paid her 33% more than our mutually agreed upon rate.

"This is extortion!" I indignantly told my husband. Well, maybe not. But it's at least some form of price gouging. The worst part? She might actually get away with it, thanks to a shortage of nannies coupled with families (i.e. ours) who are desperate for help. Basic supply and demand.

Our messiest child. "Why we're grateful for nannies" Exhibit A.

At first, the vanishing American worker appears to be a mystifying phenomenon.

According to the US Bureau of Labor’s most recent estimates, there are 10.9 million job openings across the country. So how do 7.7 million Americans remain unemployed? Mathematically, it doesn’t add up. 10.9 million jobs – 7.7 million people looking for jobs = MORE THAN 2 MILLION LEFTOVER JOBS. But looking around our communities, that’s clearly not the case.

Why are we in this predicament? You only have to follow the breadcrumbs and look at the policies that have gotten us to this point - and the story reveals itself.

REASON 1: The government’s generosity during the pandemic far outweighed the need. Extension for renters to pay their landlords was repeatedly extended, spanning a full 18 months’ worth of rent (the federal eviction moratorium spanned from March 2020 until August 2021). Weeks before the moratorium expired, Rep. Cori Bush infamously slept on the U.S. Capitol steps because apparently 18 months wasn't long enough. I think we can all agree no one wants more Americans to be homeless. But sorry, Cori - at a certain point this extended relief disincentivizes renters to find a sustainable source of income, i.e. A JOB.

Rep. Cori Bush & friends sleep on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to protest the end of the eviction moratorium, and to demonstrate the plight of the homeless. With iPhones, MacBooks and Starbucks, apparently.

Then of course there are the COVID relief funds. I wrote about the deleterious impact of these overly generous handouts in a previous blog post. This handy calculator shows that Americans who received COVID relief funds in Missouri, for example, could “earn” $920 per week for...not working. Conversely, you’d earn just $378 toiling away at a minimum wage job. Who would actually choose to work in that situation? Now that those funds have dried up, many Americans have enough financial cushion to take their time finding the perfect job that fits their new COVID lifestyle standards!

REASON 2: Netflix and chill: we want to keep our new COVID lifestyle standards.

It’s nice to wake up without the looming stress of rush hour, and settle in on the couch with loungewear and a laptop and get to work. Since the pandemic, a ZipRecruiter survey found that 55% of job applicants want to keep this leisurely lifestyle and work remotely.

REASON 3: The workforce is shrinking.

Hundreds of thousands are giving up and leaving the workforce altogether, shrinking the hiring pool considerably. This is due to a variety of factors, such as early retirement, fear of returning to work due to COVID, and staying home to care for children due to scarce childcare options.

REASON 4: Mismatched skills.

Some industries are tightening their belts while others are desperate for workers. Workers in one industry aren't necessarily equipped to work in another. Desire to work certain jobs also has impact: perhaps a hotel employee whose job was eliminated doesn’t want to deliver packages for Amazon.

REASON 5: City slickers flocked to Florida (and other less densely populated places)…and are staying put.

It might have been because New Yorkers were going insane, trapped in their cramped apartments, and were dreaming of wide open spaces. Or because Florida was actually "open". This animated graphic using U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data demonstrates this geographic shift, ultimately contributing to the imbalance in the American workforce.

A Clearwater, Fla. beach packed with maskless beachgoers during the height of the pandemic. Courtesy: NBC News.

Sadly, the situation is bound to get worse. One hundred million workers are potentially impacted by the federal vaccine mandate that President Biden announced in September. Companies that don’t comply could be fined nearly $14,000 per violation.

So there you have it. This blatant example of overabundant government assistance should be a wakeup call in future policymaking. Of course, with the two most moderate Democrats in the Senate being stalked and intimidated, the aisle between our two parties is seeming more like an ocean. So until we can cross those tumultuous waters and solve this employment crisis... please send any good nannies our way!

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