The Indicator from Planet Money - Jobs Friday: The Worker Shortage Mystery

The U.S. is experiencing the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, some employers claim that they can't find the workers they need. What's going on?

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NPR

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith, and I'm Carlos Garcia. And today is jobs Friday. Which means air horn time.

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Yes, it is. We've got the unemployment numbers for September that just came out more than 660,000 people were hired in September the unemployment rate fell to 7.9% of the US is now added back just over 11 million of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April right after the pandemic started about half a very long way from normal jobs Friday. We have a star producer Brittany Cronin to look into a job market mystery for us that politicians an economist have been talking about a lot lately. Exactly. Cuz right now there are millions of people out of work, but at the same time employers all over the country are saying they have jobs that they can't feel so today on the show. We take a look at what's going on.

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Support for this podcast in the following message come from Capital One brought to you by the Capital One Venture Card when you earn unlimited double miles on every purchase your next trip is closer than you think what's in your wallet.

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Supporter NPR and the following message come from American Express American Express brought together 100 + companies to provide offers and resources to help small-business. Stay in business. Visit stand for small. Com partner powered by American Express. It is a tough time to be looking for work. We're hearing stories all over the country of dozens and dozens of people competing for a single job opening there just aren't a lot of open positions right now. Unless you're Chad doing as president of Midwest Staffing in Minneapolis. They help companies hire workers all over Minnesota and Chad says, he has a ton of open jobs welders, we place machine operation people general labor warehouse shipping and receiving with an entry-level HR role and administrative assistant role.

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Some of the ones are currently hiring for we have hundreds and hundreds of open job orders right now and hundreds of people for full-time jobs.

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Benefits so Chad is basically the Oprah of jobs out there like you get a job you get a job. Everybody gets a job that says he cannot find people to take these jobs. I have been in this industry for over 20 years never in my career have I experienced a situation where we literally have people to work, but they won't go back to work.

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Let me know we have clients who say to us will take five people a week. If you can find them for us. We can find them and when it first started happening chat. I know it's going on here are our average pay rate anywhere from 14 to $18 an hour. We weren't able to pay them enough to put them back to work in the math back in April when the government was paying out an extra $600 in unemployment as part of the cares act that Congress passed back in March and which had found was the people that actually make more money off of their unemployment benefits than they would by taking one of his jobs, and it was not just Jazz math process that led him to this conclusion. I have a situation where I called a candidate that I explain the job to them. It was it's exactly what they've done in their past and

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Literally laughed at me and hung up the phone. They laughed at him. That's crazy. I thought as long as those extra benefits are in place getting people to take these jobs is going to be a problem. But when that extra $600 went away the end of July Chad's problems didn't so it was not the $600 isn't Chad started thinking about other possibilities. You don't like maybe it's the location like maybe there just aren't a lot of people looking for jobs in Minneapolis right now, but that doesn't really seem to explain the mystery either because right across town from Chad keep the rose says he's been desperately looking for work. Keith is an audio-visual technician. He worked at a company setting up for conferences and expose back in March. He was furloughed for 2 months and then another two months and another started. I am over a hundred thirty applications in I've had only 8 interview since then and I've had no job offers. So everyday Keith wakes up and checks his job.

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He sent in resumes and meets with his career counselors. He even has a spreadsheet on his computer or he logs every single job. He's applied to he says the competition is overwhelming and he's just not getting many calls back at times. It's kind of a bit of an emotional beat down. I have just been fighting this uphill battle and constantly getting healed e form.

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Thank you for your application, but you're not exactly what we're looking for it this time. We encourage you to continue to look at our career site for any further opportunities you feel you might be qualified for his family relies on his income. His wife is high risk for Contracting coronavirus and cannot go back to work keeps son just graduated from college and is living at home. He says money is getting tight. But he says that is not the only reason that he wants to go back to work for me work as having a sense of purpose. I want to be in a position where I'm making a contribution to something or to someone that's just the way I hardwired I guess and that's what I want to be doing. I don't do well sitting down and doing nothing. You've got demand for labor. You got Chad sing his all these open jobs that he needs to fill on the other side of town you got

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What height of Labor you got Keith saying he desperately wants a job and he's looking and looking and he can't find one and there are reports of this kind of situation happening all over the country right now. So what is going on? I get this question all the time. That's how you sure holds senior Economist at the economic policy Institute. My first question for Heidi is there like some kind of worker shortage happening answer to that is just an absolutely no right. Now. There are quite literally more than 8 million more unemployed people then job openings. So there's an absolute excess of workers who need jobs over and above job openings that are posted if there were an actual worker shortage. We would see wages going up for jobs because when employers truly can't find workers, they start offering more money for those jobs Pecos up. That is the Hallmark

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Of a labor shortage and if you look at the weed state of right now, we are not seeing an acceleration of wage growth right now. So there is no labor shortage in the US but what about Chad? Why is he having so much trouble finding workers? How do you say the reason for this is because our economy just experienced a huge shock and what a massive disruption like this happens the system kind of meltdown for a while the country's economic engine sort of starts to seize up supply and demand are thrown out of balance and things stop working demand can't find supply and supply can't find demand and that is how you end up with these local stories of mismatches even in a single city, right and it's not just this we are seeing these economic contradictions all over the country Princeton Farmers destroying their crops because they can't sell them. Meanwhile Supermarket shelves are empty and people can't afford food. Heidi says eventually the labor market

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Will balance itself out the engine will start to home again. Supply will meet demand the Chad's and keeps of the world will find each other.

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This episode is produced by Jamila Huxtable and daring Woods was fact-checked by Chantal Danya. Patty Hearst is our editor in the indicator is a production of NPR.
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