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Oct. 23, 2021, 10:30 a.m. EDT

Where are the workers? Cutoff of U.S. jobless aid spurs no influx

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And after having received three stimulus checks in 18 months, plus federal jobless aid in some cases, most households have larger cash cushions than they did before the pandemic.

Greig and her colleagues at JPMorgan found in a study that the median bank balance for the poorest one-quarter of households has jumped 70% since COVID hit. A result is that some people are taking time to consider their options before rushing back into the job market.

Graham Berryman, a 44-year-old resident of Springfield, Missouri, has been living off savings since Missouri cut off the $300-a-week federal jobless payment in June. He has had temporary work reviewing documents for law firms in the past. But he hasn’t found anything permanent since August 2020.

“I’m not lazy,” Berryman said. “I am unemployed. That does not mean I’m lazy. Just because someone cannot find suitable work in their profession doesn’t mean they’re trash to be thrown away.”

Likewise, some couples have decided that they can get by with only one income, rather than two, at least temporarily.

Sarah Hamby of Kokomo, Indiana, lost her $300-a-week federal payment this summer after Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, ended that benefit early. Hamby’s husband, who is 65, has kept his job working an overnight shift at a printing press throughout the pandemic. But he may decide to join the ranks of people retiring earlier than they’d planned.

And Hamby, 51, may do so herself if she doesn’t find work soon. The jobs she had for decades at auto factories have largely disappeared. The positions that she sees available now require skills she doesn’t have. Yet she isn’t desperate for just any job.

“I’m at a point where I feel too old to go off and get educated or trained to do other type of work,” she said. “And to be honest, I don’t want to go work at a computer, in an office, like what a lot of us are being pushed to do. So now I’m stuck between doing some line of work that pays too little for what it’s worth — or is too physically demanding — or I just don’t work.”

Nationally, the proportion of women who were either working or looking for work in September fell for a second straight month, evidence that many parents — mostly mothers — are still unable to manage their childcare duties to return to work.

Staffing at childcare centers has fallen, reducing the care that is available. And while schools have reopened for in-person learning, frequent closings because of COVID outbreaks have been disruptive for some working parents.

Exacerbating the labor shortfall, a record number of people quit their jobs in August, in some cases spurred by the prospect of higher pay elsewhere.

In Missouri, a group of businesses, still frustrated by labor shortages more than three months after the state cut off the $300-a-week federal jobless checks, paid for billboards in Springfield that said: “Get Off Your Butt!” and “Get. To. Work.”

The state has seen no growth in its workforce since ending emergency benefits.“We don’t know where people are,” said Brad Parke, general manager of Greek Corner Screen Printing and Embroidery, who helped pay for the billboards. “Obviously, they’re not at work. Apparently, they’re at home.”

Richard von Glahn, policy director for Missouri Jobs With Justice, an advocacy group, suggested that many people on the sidelines of the job market want more benefits or the flexibility to care for children.

“People don’t want to go back” to the pre-pandemic job market, von Glahn said. “Employers have a role in creating a work environment and offering a package that provides workers the security they need.”

In Wyoming, fewer people are in the workforce now than when the state cut off all emergency jobless aid. Fear of contracting COVID-19 likely discouraged some people from seeking jobs, Wenlin Liu, chief economist at the state Economic Analysis Division, said last week.

Wyoming has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, he noted, and has been a COVID-19 hotspot since late summer. The surge in infections, Liu said, may be causing some parents to keep their children home.

State Rep. Landon Brown, a Republican, defended the cutoff of federal unemployment aid. “Wyoming,” Brown said, “is not interested in continuing to allow the federal government to keep people away from jobs, paying them as much to stay home in some cases as to go and get a job.”

Mississippi ended all emergency jobless aid on June 12. Yet it had fewer people working in August than in May. In Tupelo last week, a job fair attracted 60 companies, including a recruiter from VT Halter Marine, a shipbuilder located 300 miles south. About 150 to 200 job seekers also attended, fewer than some businesses had hoped.

Adam Todd had organized the job fair for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which helps people find jobs and distributes unemployment benefits.

The agency has received “calls of desperation,” Todd said, “from businesses needing to recruit workers during the pandemic. “We’re in a different point in time than we have been in a very long time,” Todd said. “The job seeker is truly in the driver’s seat right now.”

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