The May jobs report released last week
disappointed many analysts. The addition of 559,000 jobs would be good news in ordinary times. But these are not such times. And the big story behind the numbers is the continuing labor shortage. As the Wall Street Journal reported
"A record level of job openings in the U.S. suggests businesses are having difficulty filling positions. Economists have pointed to a variety of factors that could be contributing to constrained job growth. Those issues include some workers’ concerns about contracting the coronavirus, child-care responsibilities preventing some parents from returning to work, and a $300-a-week federal supplement for recipients of unemployment benefits."
"After almost 15 months of pandemic restrictions, layoffs and losses, many restaurants, bars and other food service businesses face a new crisis: With just weeks to go before restrictions lift, a deep labor shortage is derailing hopes for a quick recovery — and renewing questions about the role of pandemic unemployment benefits.
"The numbers are striking. Demand for cooks, waiters and other food service workers is scorchingly high: As of May 28, job postings in Washington’s leisure and hospitality sector, of which food service is the biggest component, were up 39% from January 2020, before the pandemic, compared to just 19.8% for all sectors combined, according to data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights website.
"Yet the size of the state’s food service workforce is still far below pre-pandemic levels."
The article combines data with anecdotes to tell a compelling story. While the hospitality industry is clearly the most-impacted sector, employers across the state economy tell similar stories.
"As Washington emerges from the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges facing many employers is finding enough qualified workers.
It’s a dramatic shift from a year ago, when businesses were forced to close their doors to slow the spread of the virus, leading to an unprecedented surge in unemployment.
Today, many Covid-related business restrictions are either gone or going away soon, and unless something is done to address the escalating workforce crisis, it will be a drag on long-term economic recovery.
“'A lack of skilled and qualified workers was a big issue for many employers prior to the pandemic,” Association of Washington Business President Kris Johnson said. “The pandemic has exposed and magnified the issue, as it has so many others.'”
One suggestion for easing the shortage in the near term:
"...with so many jobs available now, it’s time to end the suspension of the job search requirement for those receiving unemployment insurance benefits."
The AWB report identifies other strategies that will have to come into play as businesses move into the next phase of recovery.