More than 10 million jobs remained unfilled in June for less than 6 million job seekers. The causes of this labor shortage are multiple: the aging of the workforce, the departure of women from the labor market, immigration restrictions or long covid.
Salesmen, waiters, teachers, mailmen... Job ads are popping up all over the United States, as the number of workers has dwindled since the beginning of the pandemic, between retirements, immigration restrictions, or long Covid.
We're hiring" signs are posted on roadsides, in front of restaurants, and on buses. Employers are looking to hire more people than they did before the pandemic because of the frenzy of consumption of Americans, but they are struggling to recruit.
More than 10 million job openings were available in June, according to the most recent data available, with fewer than 6 million job seekers.
"We have plenty of jobs, but not enough workers," and "this shortage affects all sectors," summarized the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents American businesses, in a statement.
Many people stopped working in the spring of 2020, when the U.S. economy was hit hard by Covid-19. And didn't come back.
"We would have 3.4 million more people in the labor force" if the participation rate, from 62.1% in July, was still 63.4%, as it was before the pandemic, the employers' organization calculated.
But where are they all?
For many, retirement: "the American population is aging," Nick Bunker, a specialist in the U.S. job market and head of economic research for the job board Indeed, told AFP.
The very large number of "baby boomers" had already begun to leave the labor market before Covid, but there was an "acceleration of departures" at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, adds Diane Swonk, chief economist for KPMG, also to AFP.
Millions of people had retired early, fearing for their health and taking advantage of the surge in stock and real estate prices to sell and enjoy their savings.
And in the short term, "we are unlikely" to regain the pre-pandemic mass of workers "because of the aging population," warns Nick Bunker.
Especially since "we don't have immigration at a sufficient rate to replace the baby boomers who are leaving the workforce," notes Diane Swonk.
Indeed, restrictions imposed by Donald Trump's administration had nearly halved immigration between 2016 and 2019. Then Covid caused foreign arrivals to drop further, to only about a quarter of 2016 levels by 2021.
"It's picked up a little bit, but still not to the levels we were experiencing a few years ago," says Nick Bunker.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also points to "early retirement and lower immigration". But it also points to generous government support for the pandemic, which it says "has inflated the finances of some previously employed workers who no longer need to work.
Women too, had largely stopped working in 2020, due to schools remaining closed for sometimes a year and a half. And not all of them have resumed, now facing the lack of staff in the nurseries linked, precisely, to the shortage of manpower.
Diane Swonk also highlights "the effects of the pandemic itself", people who have contracted the virus. Or suffer from a long Covid, "one of the most underestimated and misunderstood problems, keeping people out of the workforce."
This adds to the shortage of workers, "but also makes it harder to find a job," the economist adds.
The Great Resignation is also linked to the generalization of hybrid work - alternating between face-to-face and remote work - during the covid, which has given employees a taste for flexibility. Thus, professionals working in tele-fragile professions, i.e. those who cannot work remotely, have massively deserted their jobs. The same is true for employees managed by employers who are reluctant to telework.
To deal with this shortage of workers, we need to get people back into the workforce on the one hand. But we also need to slow down the American consumer spending spree so that companies need fewer people.
The shortage is expected to continue, but to subside somewhat, as fighting high inflation means slowing down the economy and thus employment.
In the meantime, employees are taking advantage of this. For almost a year now, millions of them have been changing employers every month, as employers compete with each other by offering higher wages and better working conditions.
This "Big Quit" has pushed up the average hourly wage, which in the private sector is now $32.27, up 5.2% year-on-year. This is helping to fuel inflation.
The job market returned to good health in July. The 22 million jobs destroyed by the Covid-19 have been recreated, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.5%.