NOW HIRING! Signs are in windows. Ads are all over the internet. Job openings abound in America. So why did U.S. employers add just 266,000 jobs last month? The number fell from March to April. Businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens.
Coronavirus cases are declining nationwide. States are easing restrictions. Businesses want to reopen—and many have done so. But restaurants and retail stores far too regularly post restricted hours due to insufficient staff to keep operations running. Courier services (like FedEx and UPS) still warn customers of shipping delays. Manufacturing industries are behind on production and delivery due to short staff and breaks in the supply chain (which are often staff-related as well).
Despite the unemployment rate—which ticked up in April to 6.1% after dropping to 6% in March—Americans are flush with cash. Many received $1,400 in federal relief checks in March. Work-from-home employees report saving money during the pandemic due to spending less on travel and entertainment over the last year. Millions have money to burn—but in some cases, the businesses they hope to support can’t meet customer demand.
Some of the lack of labor can be explained by lifestyle changes. Many working moms, for instance, left jobs to stay home with young children while schools and daycares were closed. Not all have been able to return to the workforce, and with summer approaching, they may continue on at home until the next school year opens.
Some currently unemployed people say they are not ready to return to work outside the home because they still fear catching the virus. But yet another factor is in play.
Federal government-sponsored unemployment benefits remain active, providing an additional $300 per week on top of the rates states pay to workers who have lost jobs not by their own choice. For many, that boost in pay means they are earning more money to stay home than they would if they returned to their pre-pandemic jobs. For example, anyone earning under $32,000 per year before now earns more money to stay home than he or she was collecting in legitimate wages. Where is the incentive to go back, then?
The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion “rescue” package gave Americans significant income and purchasing power. That’s supposed to be good for infusing an economy with cash flow and building investor confidence. But it’s only as good as it can actually be redeemed in the marketplace—and that requires human bodies showing up for work to fulfill services and purchases.
Today, the number of open jobs is significantly above pre-pandemic levels. But the size of the labor force—the number of Americans either working or actively looking for work—is smaller. About four million people smaller, in fact.
Some states, like South Carolina and Montana, say they will act to block the federal unemployment payments. They believe it’s the best way to encourage their citizens to get back to work. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday issued a statement making the same argument. The Chamber encourages the federal government to curtail the additional benefits immediately.
Outside of that kind of action, economists predict that employers will have to dip deeper into their own profits to offer higher pay if they hope to fully reopen before federal benefits run out in September. Without the incentive of better wages than they might have budgeted for, business owners may find themselves operating on skeletal staff into the fall, at best.
The Bible has much good to say about work. God is active in economies—bringing about provision for His people, allowing the expression of creativity and innovation, providing for others’ needs, and giving opportunity for generosity. It also has much to say about those who choose not to work. Actively using our skills is God-glorifying and good for our families and communities.
(A grocery store in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, advertises its need for employees. AP/Tony Dejak)
The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. — Proverbs 12:24