Unemployment Skyrockets in America

Jacob McIntyre, Staff Writer

Unemployment has been on the rise in America, but what is causing this trend? Unemployment benefits are discouraging low wage workers from returning to work, and childcare services are becoming increasingly expensive with some schools still shut down. Vaccine mandates prevent up to 40 percent of workers in some sectors from returning to work, causing employers to seek out for higher quality workers as automation becomes a more viable option. Despite many industries dying or changing, training for new jobs is in short supply. All these factors are contributing to record high unemployment rates, though this is not all bad.

Unemployment benefits are contributing to a low supply of labor. With workers working for minimum wage, these benefits can be slightly lower or the same as for those working a 40-hour job. This limits the reasons for people to look for new job opportunities; why work when you could make the same amount from home? According to the Washington Post business leaders “are complaining that there is a “worker shortage,” and they largely blame the more generous unemployment payments and stimulus checks for making people less likely to take low-paying fast food and retail jobs again.” Freshmen Jameson Mark thinks “workers will most likely return when the benefits end.” This is compounded by the fact that these positions are often not well respected or lack benefits. To get more workers many employers are offering healthcare benefits and higher wages, which is not attracting works as quickly as employers need them.

The worker shortage has not affected everyone equally. Sophomore Jackson Henery notes that he “hadn’t heard about it until now.” Many industries have transitioned to remote work, and not everyone uses in-person services. Other business sectors, like construction, have been able to keep a steady amount of labor. Indirect effects are still present and far reaching. According to the monthly Washington employment report manufacturing has lost workers. This will decrease supply of goods, and potentially raise the price of goods that everyone consumers.

That may not be enough. Many of these employers need high-skilled labor for these higher wages. If workers cannot be productive enough for these higher wage jobs, it would be more economical to automate. Many fast-food restaurants are replacing workers with machines, and only one or two staff members in a store is becoming more common. In addition, many industries that rely on considerable amounts of labor and exposure to people, such as malls, are simply dying out and being replaced due to a fewer number of customers from the impacts of COVID-19. David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says in a report, “Once robots are in place, we won’t go back. Once you’ve made that type of capital investment, you don’t tend to go backward.” Workers are choosing to move to different and often more technical fields that require more training. Employers are often unwilling to train new employs, and training is costly and difficult for an individual to get. Many programs, nonprofit and government funded, are being created to address this issue. According to The Cronicle  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched a nationwide initiative called America Works that’s aimed at mobilizing industry and government to address the growing worker shortage crisis throughout the country”, including increasing access to training. Even so, new employs will not have the work experience that is required.

Training is not the only thing employs are required to do before returning to work. King county’s vaccine mandate is making it so 30 percent to 40 percent of workers cannot return to work. While this is beneficial for reducing the impact of the coronavirus and spread, many businesses have been hard hit. The boating business, for example, suffered major losses from labor shortage. This can be traced back to ferry workers having incredibly low vaccination rates for the state, and the aging population retiring after COVID-19 instead of going back to work. Up to half of the workers aged 50 and up have had an early retirement, and the boating businesses have an old population of works. This can be devastating, as emergencies that require transport will no longer be able to be easily addressed, and locals that rely on ferries to get to main land Washington will be left stranded. Many think that the vaccination requirement should be lifted. Senior Clare Marshall says that businesses “shouldn’t require a vaccine except for food work.”

Childcare is an issue for workers even in stable industry’s that are high paying. Because schools are still shut down in many areas, childcare services have increased drastically in price. Many workers have had to stay home to take care of their kids instead of rejoining the workforce. Not even the opening of schools can fully solve this issue. More kids than ever are now being homeschooled, and it is unlikely that that will change quickly. More work into changing childcare regulation may be able to alleviate this issue in the short term; right now, the ration of workers to children is 1:3 maximum. This is being changed and will increase the amount of people that could accesses childcare and potentially reduce cost.

This surge in unemployment is not all bad. Employers are accepting employees from different sectors of business and offering more training than ever before. Higher wages, often increasing from five to ten dollars an hour, is helping more workers have more spending power. Health benefits and paid work days off have also increased for lower paying jobs. According to the Washington Post these benefits come directly from the shortages: “Economists credit that partly to the higher wages many employers have had to offer to fill openings”. Without other options for employers, teenagers can get early job experience as well. These factors mean that the quality of life of still employed workers has gone up dramatically. Only time will tell if these benefits will stick around.

These issues are likely to be fixed with time or attention from the government or other agencies. When it will be fixed is far more unclear. Some people think it could be six months, more professional estimates range from one to three years. How society, workers, and employers react will determine the length and impact of this worker shortage.