The demand for labor is so strong now that there are more job openings than workers officially listed as unemployed in Ohio and across the United States
Nationally, there were 10.6 million job openings at the end of November, according to the most recent federal data. Meanwhile, the number of people listed as unemployed fell to 6.4 million in December.
It’s a similar story in Ohio, where 381,000 openings were posted in November, according to federal data. The latest state unemployment report for November showed 275,000 unemployed.
The worsening shortage is fed up with workers leaving their jobs in near-record numbers, although many are likely to accept better jobs.
Federal data shows that 2.8% of all workers in Ohio, 153,000 in total, quit their jobs in October. Although high, this is down from 3% in August.
“The labor market continues to be very tight, primarily due to pandemic factors that are keeping many workers out of the labor force,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. “There are more jobs than workers available and a record number of employees are quitting, both signs of tight market conditions. We haven’t seen much indication of market easing, particularly with the upsurge in COVID cases.”
Higher wages not enough to bring workers back amid COVID challenges
In response, employers raised wages, paid bonuses, and offered benefits such as tuition coverage. Wages rose 4.7% over the past year nationally, according to federal data.
Workers left the labor force soon after the pandemic began, and some have yet to return.
Difficulties with childcare and fear of getting sick or bringing home COVID-19, among other reasons, kept them away from the workplace. Older workers have retired early and employers say other applicants don’t have the skills they are looking for.
Ohio still needs about 220,000 workers and jobs to get back to where it was before the pandemic.
The shortage has been pronounced in many industries, but low-wage jobs have been hit the hardest.
In August, Ohio’s employment rates for high-wage workers, defined as those earning at least $60,000 a year, rose 18.8% since the start of the pandemic, according to tracktherecovery.org , a website created by Opportunity Insights, a research institute of Harvard University. that tracks the trajectory of the economy during the pandemic.
For middle-wage jobs, those earning $27,000 to $60,000, the increase was 7.1%.
But the state still has 18.8% fewer low-wage jobs than before the pandemic began.
What companies need to do to retain and attract workers
Workers left behind have complained of burnout as employers add longer shifts and more tasks.
Businesses will have to adapt to keep workers happy and meet customer demands, Ayers said. This could, for example, include allowing employees to work remotely.
“Companies will need to get creative in this hiring environment and keep current employees happy,” Ayers said. “But workers particularly value opportunities for advancement and positive work-life balance, which become even more important when comparing job options.”
Fadhel Kaboub, an associate professor of economics at Denison University, has a broader view of who qualifies as unemployed, one that dramatically increases the number of people eligible for new employment.
“I think it’s misleading in terms of the health of the economy,” Kaboub said of the official unemployment data.
To be considered unemployed, people must be actively looking for work.
But the pool of potentially eligible workers could be expanded to include the 3.9 million people who work part-time because their hours have been cut or they can’t find full-time work, according to federal data. There were also 5.7 million workers who were not part of the labor force but who were, however, currently seeking employment.
There are also people with disabilities or with criminal records who struggle to find work, he said.
“The longer you are unemployed, the more likely you are not to be hired,” he said.
A multi-pronged approach needs to be taken to bring more people into the workforce that addresses issues such as training, housing, access to transportation, counseling for people with alcohol or drug addiction, help for dropouts high school and helping people who have been in prison return to work, he says.
“Otherwise they are coded as unemployable,” Kaboub said.