Late last summer, the U.S. government pulled the plug on $300-per-week bonus checks for unemployed Americans. The bonuses were intended to help citizens who had lost their livelihoods while pandemic restrictions limited operations. After the extra paycheck supplements ended, folks would snap up millions of empty jobs, right? Wrong. Employers wait with “Help Needed” postings galore. Where are all the job seekers?
Labor shortages have persisted longer than economists expected. The hardest hit industries are retail, construction, food service, and manufacturing.
Companies eager to add workers have posted a near-record number of available jobs. Yet unemployment remains elevated. Are people simply not working? And if so, how are they paying their bills?
Economists see many reasons millions of Americans aren’t returning to the workforce. Some still fear contracting COVID-19. Others lack child care. Some older, more wealthy workers decided to retire early.
The pandemic appears also to have caused a priority re-evaluation. People like Rachel Montgomery say they’ve decided to spend more time with family. Montgomery lost a catering job last year. She says she’s “pickier” about where she’ll work now.
“Once you’ve stayed home with your kids and family like this, who wants to physically have to go back to work?” Montgomery asks.
Others want more work flexibility. Richard von Glahn of Missouri Jobs with Justice says, “Employers have a role in creating a work environment and offering a package that provides workers the security they need.”
Plus, laid-off workers received three stimulus checks in 18 months in addition to the federal jobless aid. They may have built larger cash cushions than they had before the pandemic. Plumper bank accounts keep some folks from rushing back to work.
Sarah Hamby is a job seeker. But the positions available now require skills she doesn’t have. “I feel too old to go off and get educated or trained to do other type of work,” she says.
God made humans to work. Work is one way of obeying and honoring the Creator just as it was for Adam and Eve—in the garden and after. (Genesis 2:15, 3:17-19) Sin made work more difficult, but its importance remains. The Bible says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
Rosalie Drago is Commissioner of Labor for Suffolk County, New York. After a couple of unpredictable years, she believes people are waiting to see what happens next. “There’s been a lot of talk about ‘people don’t want to work,’ and that’s not the case,” Drago says. “People are trying to figure out what’s stable.”
Why? While God created work and considers it good, there are many factors to understand in a modern economy about what types of work people choose to do and under what conditions.