The writer is a contributing FT columnist
I learned a valuable lesson from the coronavirus pandemic: don’t waste time trying to predict the future.
As I never thought to spend a year of my life stuck at home, nor would I have foreseen what happened when American pandemic restrictions eased. I assume that many Americans struggle to find jobs after the closure; instead, workers are struggling to find people. Every aspect of post-pandemic life – and death – is influenced by the lack of work.
The cemetery where my dead mother and brother are buried, and where I lied even one day, sent e-mails last week to apologize for the tall grass and weeds infested in the graves, saying they can’t it employs enough workers to mow the meadows.
When my family ventured for one of our first mascara-free meals, at a local Korean barbecue restaurant, we found only two busy staff serving dozens of diners (memo to the chef: we’ve never had our own cutlets since pork with garlic).
Some municipal swimming pools across the Midwest have had to delay opening or cut hours due to a shortage of swimming pools. And the Midwest’s first amusement park, Cedar Point, had to close two days a week for most of June because of the short staff. Cedar Point doubled seasonal wages to $ 20 an hour and offered a $ 500 signing bonus to get roller coasters rolling and dodgem cars flying full-time.
Julio Cano, business leader of the Bien Trucha group, which owns Mexican-inspired restaurants outside of Chicago, offers $ 700 to employees who refer anyone for “return home” work as a line cooker or dishwasher. These now start at $ 15 an hour, compared to $ 12.50 or $ 13 pre-pandemic.
Cano, who has to close his restaurants for an hour on the afternoon of the weekend so that employees can rest, says other businesses are suffering too: local banks don’t have desks and “people who care of the plants in one of our restaurants had the top direction to take, instead of workers for now ”.
He worries about the long-term impact of this “supply war.” “We are fighting for the same very limited group of people, competing against it Amazon and Target and lose our workforce to other industries, ”he says.
Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Bank, says he is “shocked” by the speed of the shortage. “I think it would have taken until at least the end of this year,” he says, adding that the additional unemployment insurance paid to unemployed workers during the pandemic has “clearly played a role” in the shortage.
Economists say many low-wage workers can earn as much as picking up increased state and federal pandemics unemployment insurance how they can work. (Full disclosure: some members of my family reap the benefits developed). Many states have liquidated increased unemployment benefits soon.
But there are other reasons for the lack of manpower, says Korzenik. “If you lost a job working in a department store on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and the new jobs available are in Joliet [a suburb an hour away], it’s not always the right fit. ”He added that workers over the age of 65 are also reluctant to return to the workforce, or retire during the pandemic, and that it plays a role in the shortage.
“But it’s been a good year for teen unemployment,” he notes, noting that teens often don’t have unemployment benefits to fall back on, are less worried about getting sick with Covid-19 than older workers and rarely have to be paid for the care of the children. The participation of 16- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. workforce has gone from an all-time low of 20.9 percent in April 2020 to 33.2 percent last month.
But Cano says the teenagers he takes for the most part don’t want to work “at home” like dishwashers, and cemetery staff says jobs in cemeteries aren’t even at the top of the list for many young people. Thus adolescents cannot solve the shortage of self-employed workers.
“I’m afraid of where this situation will end,” Cano says. More workers could return to the market when federal unemployment benefits end in September, “but I’m afraid we’re creating a bubble. . . which is not sustainable ”.
Then again, the future may surprise us. It certainly happened before.