We are living through a time of economic contradictions, with the world of business and the lives of workers disrupted by the aftershocks of the pandemic in ways that we are struggling to understand.

Recent headlines in the News-Post reflect this topsy-turvy situation: “Help Wanted,” “COVID safety net ending” and “... poverty rates could rise.”

According to the federal government, 8.4 million potential workers are unemployed, while businesses say they have 10.9 million job openings. If this were simple math instead of real life, that would seem to be an easy problem to solve. But it is not.

Frederick County businesses, including restaurants and retailers, have been forced to cut back on operations, eliminating days and reducing the hours they are open because they cannot find enough staff.

“It’s everywhere. And it’s in every sector,” Rick Weldon, president of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, told News-Post reporter Jillian Atelsek.

Potential workers have been holding back for many reasons. Some were receiving more in enhanced unemployment benefits than they were paid in their old jobs. Others are rethinking their options and looking for new jobs in different sectors of the economy. And still others are fearful to take any job where they might be exposed to COVID-19 and its deadly delta variant.

As Vox, an online news site, recently wrote: “The millions of jobs available aren’t necessarily millions of jobs people want.”

Vox quoted Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute, who explained: “A lot of what people are seeing are low-paying jobs with unpredictable or not-worker-friendly scheduling practices, that don’t come with benefits, don’t come with long-term stability. And those are not the types of jobs that any worker is eager to take on.”

Hiring was surprisingly weak in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department. Economists put most of the blame on the impact of the delta variant, which caused a huge increase in COVID cases during the late summer.

“The delta variant has taken a bigger toll on the job market than many of us had hoped,” Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, told The Associated Press. “It’s going to take workers longer to come back to the labor market than we expected.”

According to the jobs report, hiring was the weakest in the sectors of the economy that require face-to-face contact with the public — restaurants, hotels and retailers.

The enhanced federal unemployment benefits that sustained many workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic have come to an end. The stimulus payments that went to almost every family are long past.

That generous federal aid, intended to stimulate the economy and prevent a general depression, supported living standards and in some cases raised them. The Urban Institute estimated that Maryland had an 18.6 percent poverty rate prior to the pandemic, but it said benefit programs reduced the rate to a projected 6.3 percent. An estimated 729,000 Marylanders stayed out of poverty.

With the end of those programs, it seems as if workers should be shrugging their shoulders and taking on work, even if they don’t like it. But it has not worked that way so far, even in several states where the unemployment benefits were ended early.

So, we wait, to see what the new world of work and business will hold. Facing a slide back into poverty, we would expect workers to return, even to jobs that they do not love. And we would expect that businesses desperate for workers will improve the attractiveness of jobs by increasing wages and improving conditions to get more candidates.

That is what would have happened in the past. But this is a different time, and our expectations may or may not be met. The next few months should tell.

(14) comments

nancypace

Sadly, too many of our citizens are too poorly educated to qualify for all but the worst jobs. Why is this? Teachers are great, but unfortunately teachers’ unions interests and local good old boy/school boards’ interests largely supersede the best interests of our students.

MD1756

What about the parents of the students who are poorly educated? Don't you think they bear some responsibility for oversight of their children's progress in school?

bnick467

It's not about education. There have always been jobs available for those without a formalized education. The problem is that wages haven't kept up with inflation. Forty years ago a person making minimum wage could afford rent, utilities, transportation and food, without having to work 2 or 3 jobs. Now, billion dollar corporations refuse to hire full time workers to avoid paying benefits (looking at you, Walmart). Rent has skyrocketed, transportation costs have tripled, food keeps getting more and more expensive, yet wages have remained stagnant while corporations pay their executives billions of dollars in bonuses for screwing the work force out of as much money as they can. There are plenty of people perfectly willing to dig ditches or clean toilets for a living, but not when those jobs don't pay enough to live on.

Dwasserba

👍🏻bnick

gabrielshorn2013

Yes, bnick, there once were jobs that required no education, such as in manufacturing, and the hospitality sectors. However, unskilled manufacturing jobs have gone away as the companies moved overseas due to costs of labor and taxes. Those companies that stayed moved to robotics, which were far cheaper to keep, never take a sick/vacation day, nor have to pick up the kids. The manufacturing jobs remaining require education and skill, and pay well. So, yes, it is about education. As we are employees, we are a cost to businesses, and are paid what the market will bear. The job of employers is not to give us a job. Their job is to hire someone, whose output is worth more than they are paid. You can mandate a wage floor, but there is no law requiring that a manufacturer hire you to begin with. There’s the rub. Make it too expensive to hire you, and you’ll be looking for another job. The hospitality sector is suffering from that very problem. For example, fast food chains facing the rising cost of labor are automating their processes, greatly reducing their labor costs. See McDonalds as an example. Finally, you seem to be harkening back to “the good old days”, where the grass was always green, and the sun always shining. When I moved out of my folks house, earning the minimum wage of $2.30 at a grocery store (which according to US inflation calculator is worth $11.06 now https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/). As stated below, the minimum wage in Maryland is currently $11.75. Our rent back then was $500/month, which is $2,403.93 today. I had to share an apartment with three other guys to make ends meet. Minimum wage was never meant to be able to support what you say it does (or did). It was a starter wage that would increase as skills, experience, and responsibility was built. Very few people are actually paid the Federal minimum wage. The percentage of hourly paid workers earning the prevailing federal minimum wage or less declined from 2.7 percent in 2016 to 2.3 percent in 2017. This remains well below the percentage of 13.4 recorded in 1979, when data were first collected on a regular basis. As of 2019, it was only 1.9%. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2017/home.htm

beyoungjr

[thumbup]

Tanstaafl

Right out of the sainted KOCH owned Republican Playbook! Well said, well practiced too...

beyoungjr

You sure bnick???

$3.35/hr in 1981 might have covered rent but not much room for State/Fed tax off the check or food, electric, and car insurance. Most forget to factor in all those costs of living when they preach the "living wage on minimum wage" nonsense.

I agree that the minimum wage has lagged but $15/hr is not gonna workout so good, MMW.

Tanstaafl

People are sick and tired of corporate employment with falling wages, no respect, and increasingly dangerous working conditions!: Nothing to do with extra money from government "handouts." For Pete's Sakes, CEOs everywhere are making millions even when THEIR "job performance" is failing. Americans are FINALLY saying "Enough!"

shiftless88

Teachers teach but a lot of kids have little interest in learning. Part of that is the education-hating right wing of today. Of course there are other issues as well, but most are beyond what the kids themselves can change.

Dwasserba

‘“The millions of jobs available aren’t necessarily millions of jobs people want.”’

bnick467

Not for only $7.25 an hour.

gabrielshorn2013

Minimum wage in Maryland is $11.75, and will increase to $15 by 3025.

gabrielshorn2013

2025, not 3025.

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