Worker Shortage: September’s lackluster jobs report has many conflicted over why businesses are struggling to find employees amid a worker shortage. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Worker Shortage
In September, employers added just 194,000 jobs to the US economy. For context, economists were projecting that number to land in the vicinity of 500,000. Friday’s Labor Department report was the second consecutive monthly dud, following August’s 366,000 additions. “Many workers gave up the job search and exited from the labor force last month,” Josh Mitchell reports for The Wall Street Journal. Zooming out, “The economy is in an unusual position: Demand is strong. Households are flush with cash and have increased spending briskly this year on goods and services. But businesses are struggling to find workers to serve them, part of a broader supply squeeze that is being felt in the US and globally.” Here’s what both sides are saying about the lackluster jobs report.
On The Left
Left-leaning outlets mostly agree that the latest jobs report is disappointing. They attribute lagging numbers to the slow growth of the delta variant and lacking child care options. A couple of commentators don’t think the report is as bad as it seems, however.
“The September jobs report in one word: ‘Oof’” Catherine Rampell, Washington Post Opinion: “The effects of COVID-19 are all over this report. For example, health-care employment fell, likely in part due to patients avoiding congregate settings and delaying non-emergency care while facilities are overwhelmed with COVID patients. … COVID also appears to have affected workers who are technically employed. The share of workers who had jobs but said they were absent from work due to their own illness ticked up again in September. Other factors are also weighing on hiring, such as access to child care. Child-care employment rose in September, but it’s still more than 10 percent below its pre-pandemic levels. … In the near term the single most important factor for getting job growth back on track is … getting the pandemic under control. That means getting more shots in arms.”
“The New Jobs Numbers Are Pretty Good, Actually” Neil Irwin, The Upshot, The New York Times: “It’s not as bad as it looks. … Much of the disappointment came from strange statistical quirks around school reopening. … [Additionally,] July and August numbers were revised up by a combined 169,000 jobs implying the economy entered the fall in a stronger place than it had seemed … Meanwhile, the focus on the underwhelming job growth numbers has masked what should be viewed as unambiguously good news. The unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent, from 5.2 percent in August. … This represents a remarkably speedy recovery in the labor market — attaining sub-5 percent unemployment a mere 17 months after the end of the deepest recession in modern times. … Labor force participation remains the Achilles’ heel of this recovery. Many Americans who have dropped out of the work force … are not yet back in action.”
“When It Comes to Jobs: It’s the Pandemic, Stupid” John Cassidy, The New Yorker: “So much for Republican claims that cutting unemployment benefits would get more Americans back to work. … Many economists predicted that job growth would rebound from what was seen as a weak August, but instead the level fell to its lowest of the year … Fear of the resurgent virus, coupled with related concerns about child care and other factors, have affected employment decisions across the economy. This was evident throughout the new jobs report. … For the first time since February, the number of people who cited the pandemic as their reason for not working increased. … The path of the virus remains the key variable. … To misquote a James Carville axiom from Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign: ‘It’s the pandemic, stupid.’”
On The Right
Right-leaning commentators largely focus on worker shortages, which they attribute more to government policy rather than COVID. Lawrence Kudlow, former Director of the National Economic Council, bucks the trend, however, claiming the report isn’t all that bad.
“Team Biden, if you want better jobs numbers, stop discouraging work” Andy Puzder, Fox News Opinion: “Contrary to what we’re hearing from the Biden administration, the solution to our labor market problems is not massive government spending designed to create jobs. There are already 10.9 million openings … but only 7.7 million people are actively looking for work. … Stated simply, the problem is a shortage of workers not a shortage of job openings. Neither government spending intended to create more jobs nor government spending that discourages work will solve that problem. … Yet, rather than programs that encourage people to return to work, Biden wants to increase government spending to expand or create new government entitlements that will further discourage people from working. … What Biden and the Democrats seem to be missing is that encouraging people not to work isn’t just bad for the economy, it’s bad for them.”
“Where Did All the Workers Go?” Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal: “While the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.8% from 5.2%, that’s because 183,000 Americans dropped out of the workforce. … So what’s causing the worker shortage? One possible culprit is vaccine mandates. … Democrats have also made quitting an easier economic option [with] pandemic enhanced unemployment benefits … The White House and Fed have deployed the Keynesian policy mix of government spending and easy monetary policy to boost demand. Meanwhile, they’ve squeezed the supply side with incentives not to work, restrictive mandates, and the promise of more regulation and higher taxes. The result is 5% inflation and supply-chain disruptions that will stretch well into 2022 … Now Democrats want to add another $5 trillion in spending and taxes that will do more of the same. Workers and the economy will be far better off if this legislation dies.”
“Take a Second Look at the Jobs Report — Private Sector Jobs Are Booming” Lawrence Kudlow, The New York Sun: “I may not be politically correct from a conservative viewpoint, but it was a solid jobs report. … Here’s the key. Private sector jobs rose 317,000. Remember private sector jobs? They’re the most important jobs, and upward revisions to private jobs in July and August came to more than 100,000. … It was government jobs and school jobs that crashed in this report. This has to do with crazy seasonal adjustments, which can’t keep up with various school closings and openings around the country. … Now, the inflation rate is too high. … [Therefore,] we don’t need $6 trillion in additional spending … Inflation is a tax on the middle class. … We don’t need a Green New Deal that has eroded America’s primacy in world energy markets. … So save America. Kill the bill.”
Flag This: Worker Shortage
One day before the Labor Department published the US jobs report, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released another survey on Thursday. Its contents are quite alarming. “For the first time in Council polling, less than half of Americans (46%) say the United States is stronger than China in terms of military power,” the report reads. In fact, “A plurality of Americans (40%) say China is economically stronger than the United States.” As Scott Clement and Dan Balz annunciate in the The Washington Post, “The nationwide survey also found that protecting US jobs ranks ahead of other American foreign policy priorities such as fighting global pandemics, combating international terrorism, and limiting climate change.” Job creation and security are vital not only for the economic health of the United States but also the health of individuals. One study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, shows that when people move from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or fewer a week, their risk of mental health problems declines by an average of 30%. Work isn’t always fun, but it provides a sense of purpose on a personal level and cohesiveness on a national level.
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