Riddle me this: How is it that the economy is still down almost six million jobs from its peak before the pandemic struck, yet there is a record over 10 million open job positions?
It has arguably never been easier for workers to find jobs, or so difficult for businesses to find the workers they need. What gives, and how long will it continue?
The immediate explanation lies in the rapid reopening of the economy earlier this year as vaccinations became widely distributed and most of us more-or-less stopped sheltering in place. It seemed as if every business in the country hung out a help-wanted sign at the same time, especially in the restaurant, entertainment, and travel industries.
The problem is that it’s been difficult for those who lost jobs early in the pandemic and are now either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether to get back to work. They are not even counted as unemployed.
» READ MORE: Unemployment remains high, yet many businesses say they can’t find enough workers
Top of the list in this group are parents at home taking care of children who have been going to school online. There are almost six million parents in this situation, according to the Census Bureau.
It is critical for schools to reopen for in-person learning in the next few weeks. So far it looks as if they will, but the surging number of infections and hospitalizations caused by the delta variant of COVID-19 is a serious threat. If schools don’t reopen in-person or are forced to send students back home again due to outbreaks, parents will have little choice but to stay home too and not go to work.
Almost five million people say they are home and unable to work because they are either sick from the virus, taking care of someone who is sick, or taking care of elderly parents who in many cases were taken from a nursing facility for fear of the virus. An additional three million-plus people are worried that they might contract COVID-19 or spread it if they go back to work.
Of course, these numbers go up and down with waves of the virus. They are high and rising now given the rapid spread of the delta variant, but ultimately they will wane with the pandemic.
This is one more compelling reason everyone needs to get vaccinated. The longer there are a lot of vaccine holdouts, the longer the pandemic will drag on, and the longer it will take to get people back to work and the economy fully up and running.
Then there are the nearly nine million people who because of the pandemic are temporarily laid off or aren’t working because their employer closed temporarily or is out of business. These workers could take other open positions, but doing so takes time to figure out as workers rearrange their commutes, their work hours, and their child-care needs so they can handle the new job.
Low on the list