Where Did 7 Million Workers Go? (2023)

Ideas

The U.S. economy is booming, but there’s a mysterious hole in the labor force.

(Video) About 7 million workers missing from U.S. economy as labor shortage persists
Where Did 7 Million Workers Go? (1)

The U.S. economy right now is a little bit like Dune.

(Video) Labor shortage: Where did all the workers go?

Not Frank Herbert’s magisterial sci-fi epic novel, or Denis Villeneuve’s new and reportedly sumptuous film adaptation. I mean David Lynch’s infamously bewildering 1984 movie version, which is remembered mostly for being a semi-glorious mess. Like that space oddity, today’s economy is too strange to neatly categorize as “clearly great” or “obviously terrible.” You keep waiting for it to just be normal. But it stays weird—big economic indicators point in conflicting directions—so you have to accept that nothing is going to make sense for a while, and maybe it’ll be okay.

Americans are buying more stuff than ever before. That’s good. But because of supply constraints, it can feel like there’s a painful shortage of just about everything. That’s bad. Economic growth is booming, but the president’s approval rating on the economy is falling, which is a historically odd juxtaposition. Businesses everywhere are struggling to fill jobs, which sounds bad, but employer pain is workers’ gain, and wages are rising, which is wonderful. But because prices are rising too, inflation-adjusted hourly-wage growth actually declined in September, which is not wonderful.

The strange October economy is a chapter within a broader saga of strangeness. Last year, COVID-19 put our economy in a time warp by forcing tens of millions of Americans to stay home, destroying millions of jobs, and accelerating the digitization of at-home shopping and entertainment. The pandemic thrust many people back into the homestead economy of the 1830s, while also re-creating the Depression-era economy of the 1930s and advancing into the virtual economy of the 2030s. Like the dreams of the Dune boy-hero Paul Atreides, the U.S. economy is experiencing the disorienting superposition of multiple timelines.

The great mystery of this moment is the labor shortage. America’s GDP is larger than it was in February 2020. But the total economy is down about 7 million workers. That’s akin to the entire labor force of Pennsylvania sitting on the sidelines. In September, the number of people working or actively looking for work mysteriously declined, which is not what you would expect to see in a rapidly growing economy with simmering inflation. Wages are rising. Job openings are everywhere. But we’re running out of people who seem to want a job right now.

Derek Thompson: America is running out of everything

So what’s going on? Where are all the workers?

(Video) Where Did All the Workers Go?

That might sound like a stupid question, on account of this is a pandemic. More than 10,000 Americans are still dying of COVID-19 every week. Tens of thousands more are sick from recent infections or lingering symptoms. Millions more might be scared of throwing their body in front of the coronavirus by going back to work among rude customers who might refuse vaccines, masks, or any sense of human decency. Finally, more than 700,000 people have died from COVID-19, and although it’s ghoulish to treat these deaths predominantly as a loss for the labor force, that the virus has killed many American workers is nonetheless undeniable.

But when you look closely, the direct effects of COVID-19 don’t explain very much. Most pandemic deaths have been among elderly people, not Americans of prime working age. And COVID fears have lessened over the past few months. Even so, the number of Americans under 65 looking for work is still shrinking.

“What’s most puzzling to me is that the labor shortage is everywhere,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, told me. “It’s everywhere, and it’s every industry. Every small-business person I talk to has a story. And this is coinciding with large increases in nominal wages. So what are people doing? How are they getting by?”

The most complete explanation is that the massive fiscal-policy response to the pandemic reduced the urgency of looking for work. The United States has spent trillions of dollars to help families get through the economic deep freeze, via stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and the moratorium on student-loan interest payments. National eviction bans have taken pressure off renters. Then there’s the record-high surge in savings among families who haven’t gone on vacation or splurged on experiences in more than a year. Add to that the fact that job openings have hit record highs—which means people know that if they wait a month or three, there will still be jobs aplenty to apply to. Seeing this whole picture, more Americans clearly feel like they can take a more leisurely approach to going back to work.

Surveys bear this out. A monthly questionnaire by the hiring company Indeed found that the most common reasons given for not looking for work right now are “having an employed spouse” and having a “financial cushion,” followed by “care responsibilities” and then “COVID fear.” These might seem like distinct reasons, but we can knit them all together into one meta-explanation: People can afford to prioritize family care and avoid COVID-19, for now, because of savings and working partners.

The labor shortage fits into a broader picture of workplace turmoil. Widespread media reports assert that strikes are “sweeping the labor market,” although it’s a bit unclear whether the frequency of strikes or the volume of the media coverage is what’s increasing. What’s more certain is that Americans are quitting their jobs at record numbers, especially in the leisure and hospitality sector. The “Great Resignation” seems to be accelerating, alongside a remote-work revolution in the knowledge economy.

(Video) Up to half a million workers strike across U.K.

This raises a bigger question: Is this a new normal? For now, much of the labor force seems to be participating in a kind of distributed protest against the status quo of work in America. As more people reject the office, spend more time with their family, or avoid returning to work entirely, this may be a pivotal turning point in the relationship between labor and capital.

Or maybe not! Perhaps we are suspended in an air bubble in history, and perhaps it will pop in the next year. Eventually, Americans will go back to work, where bosses will still boss them around, employers can still fire them, unions are still rare, and real wage growth is still slow. President Joe Biden is stumping for a social-infrastructure bill that would include paid family leave, expanded child tax credits, and subsidized child care. But the fate of that bill is highly uncertain.

Derek Thompson: The Great Resignation is accelerating

Whether or not today’s worker revolt becomes tomorrow’s worker revolution, what’s abundantly clear is that America needs more workers. America’s prime-age population stopped growing more than a decade ago, and because of declining fertility rates, it’s unlikely to recover through natural growth alone. If the U.S. needs more workers, the arithmetic is straightforward: We need more immigrants.

Welcoming immigrants is more complicated than putting up a Help Wanted sign at the border. Democrats are looking for ways to expand legal immigration—a matter of moral and long-term economic urgency—while avoiding a xenophobic backlash from the right. One great way to do this would be to “recapture” surplus permanent-residency visas, or green cards, that went unclaimed in previous years. Since 1992, hundreds of thousands of green cards authorized by Congress have not been issued because of administrative hiccups; last year, unused green cards reached a record high. As a result, the U.S. could extend permanent-residency visas to more than 100,000 immigrants—essentially liberalizing immigration law without technically increasing the total number of visas already authorized by Congress. This would be a clever first step in allowing more legal immigration without spooking Americans who are, for a variety of reasons, resistant to dramatic changes in the number of people the U.S. admits.

Eventually, Americans will spend down their savings and millions of people will come back from the sidelines and start working again. When they do, America will still need more workers to build houses, staff restaurants, run hotels, and care for the elderly—fields that are now experiencing serious worker shortages and that, in the past, have provided many immigrants with their first foothold in the U.S. economy. More immigration would fill more vacancies, stimulate more demand, and lead to more new ideas, new companies, and new technologies. What stands in the way of this abundance agenda is little more than an irrational fear of new Americans’ contributions. In economic policy, as in interstellar psychological warfare, fear is the mind killer.

(Video) Jobs data: About 4.5 million workers quit in November as job openings declined

FAQs

What is causing the labor shortage? ›

The education and health services, professional and business services, trade, and leisure and hospitality sectors have the highest numbers of job openings. Photo by Ian Wagreich. The pandemic caused a major disruption in America's labor force—something many have referred to as The Great Resignation.

Why is there a labor shortage 2023? ›

Economists are predicting a slowdown in labor market activity in the U.S. in 2023 due to a likely recession, a continued battle with inflation, more layoffs and higher unemployment.

Is there still a labor shortage in the united states? ›

COMMENTARY | Lawmakers and government officials need to seek out solutions now and build their workforce development strategies around them. Nearly three years into the pandemic, America is still experiencing a labor shortage.

What jobs have the biggest shortages? ›

According to the report, the following jobs are the most in-demand based on job vacancy data:
  • Registered nurse - 9,266.
  • Software and applications programmer - 7,841.
  • Aged and disability carer - 5,101.
  • Construction manager - 4,984.
  • Child carer - 4,549.
  • Motor mechanic - 4,316.
  • Retail manager - 4,244.
  • Chef - 4,141.
Oct 5, 2022

What is the most in demand job? ›

The 11 most in-demand jobs
  1. Nurse practitioner. Median salary: $123,780 a year. ...
  2. Information security analyst. Median salary: $102,600 a year. ...
  3. Statistician. Median salary: $97,570 a year. ...
  4. Physical therapist assistants. Median salary: $61,180 a year. ...
  5. Economist. ...
  6. Wind turbine technicians. ...
  7. Solar photovoltaic installers. ...
  8. Data scientist.
Oct 5, 2022

Why are so many places short staffed? ›

So, why are restaurants so short-staffed these days? The short answer is: the pandemic. The longer and more truthful answer is that the pandemic opened the eyes of many service workers who realized they were not getting what they deserve from their jobs.

How can we solve labor shortage? ›

How can the shortage of labor be overcome?
  1. Recruiting: More Referrals = Better Employees.
  2. Optimize the Onboarding Experience.
  3. Make Training an Ongoing Process.
  4. Provide Context Around Why Policies and Processes Change.
  5. Better Scheduling for Better Lives.
  6. Build Better Teams Through Better Communication.
  7. Recognize and Reward.
Aug 22, 2022

How do people not work and survive? ›

The only way to make a living without a job is to generate passive income. You can't just charge everything to a credit card. Passive income is money you generate without having to consistently work for it. It typically involves making an upfront investment in the form of time or labor.

What states have the highest labor shortage? ›

STATES STRUGGLING TO HIRE

The four most populous states in the nation — California, Texas, Florida, and New York — all have job openings rates at 6.3% or below. New York has the lowest job openings rate in the country at 5.4%. Since early 2022, the state's labor force participation rate rose to 60% by November.

What states are having labor shortages? ›

States Where Employers Are Struggling the Most in Hiring
RankStateJob Openings Rate (Latest Month)
1Alaska8.50%
2West Virginia9.10%
3Louisiana8.70%
4Montana7.60%
47 more rows
Feb 15, 2023

Are labor shortages getting better? ›

Since then, job openings have steadily increased since January 2020, while unemployment has slowly declined. Overall, in 2022, employers ended up adding an unprecedented 4.5 million jobs.

What jobs will no longer exist? ›

11 jobs that no longer exist
  • Bowling Pin Setter. Generally a job reserved for teenagers, the lowly paid bowling pinsetter job was the norm before automated pinsetters were introduced in the 1950s.
  • Human Alarm Clock. ...
  • Ice Cutter. ...
  • Pre-radar Listener. ...
  • 5. Rat Catcher. ...
  • Lamplighter. ...
  • Milkmen. ...
  • Log Driver.

What jobs will no longer be available? ›

13 Jobs That Will Be Gone Within 20 Years
  • Travel agents. Technology has undermined the role of the travel agent. ...
  • Cashiers. With more than 3.3 million people working in this capacity, the job of cashier isn't going to disappear anytime soon. ...
  • Bank tellers. ...
  • Drivers. ...
  • Newspapers. ...
  • Fast-food workers. ...
  • Telemarketing. ...
  • Warehouse workers.
Nov 10, 2022

What industries are struggling to recruit? ›

The manufacturing sector is facing the most severe recruitment challenges, with 82% reporting difficulties. This is closely followed by hospitality on 81%, logistics on 79% and construction and engineering on 77%.

What is the #1 happiest job? ›

The List: Happiest Jobs, According to Career Experts
  • Physical Therapist. Physical therapists are experts in movement and the human body that often help to rehabilitate people with injuries or disabilities. ...
  • Firefighter. ...
  • Teacher. ...
  • Teaching Assistant. ...
  • Quality Assurance Analyst.
Feb 13, 2023

What is the most loved job? ›

The 10 Happiest and Most Satisfying Jobs
  • Dental Hygienist.
  • Physical Therapist.
  • Radiation Therapist.
  • Optometrist.
  • Human Resources Manager.

What is the number 1 highest paying job? ›

Top 25 highest paying jobs in the world in 2023
  • Data Scientist – $97,659.
  • Senior Software Engineer – $119,126.
  • Investment Banker – $115,465.
  • Chief Executive Officer – $310,000.
  • Surgeon -$216,248.
  • Anaesthesiologist – $326,296.
  • Physician – $227,000.
  • Neurosurgeon – $496,000.

Why don't people want to work anymore? ›

In 2021, more than 47 million people quit their jobs — roughly 4 million per month. Many workers who quit their jobs said they weren't being paid enough, didn't see a path to advancement and felt disrespected. The stunning number of Americans who quit means many industries are facing serious labor shortages.

Why do people not want to work in restaurants anymore? ›

There is a long-standing stigma attached to working in restaurants – that the jobs are a short-term fix or a last resort for those who are unskilled. When COVID hit, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit. Those working in restaurants were forced to start looking at other options to make money.

Why is it so hard to get a job? ›

Most employees move from job to job throughout their careers. Companies are no longer as loyal to their employees as they once were. Because of that changed relationship, employers need to get an immediate return from their hiring investment. That's led them to become ever more selective about who they hire.

Why are companies struggling to find employees? ›

They're demanding more flexibility and remote work options and taking time to find positions that they'll enjoy. Buber says it's part of the reason companies are struggling to find labor.

Who is affected by labor shortage? ›

Lower-paid industries have historically been most affected by the labor shortage crisis. The most affected industries are wholesale and retail trade, durable goods and manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality.

What is the easiest job to do? ›

25 Easy Part-Time Jobs
  • Appointment Setter. If you have good communication skills, appointment setting could be the job for you. ...
  • Brand Ambassador. ...
  • Classroom or Library Monitor. ...
  • Customer Service. ...
  • Data Entry. ...
  • Delivery Driver. ...
  • Fitness Instructor. ...
  • Food/Product Demonstrations.
Dec 11, 2022

Do people live longer if they keep working? ›

The experiment confirms that working longer causes better health – specifically longer life expectancy. Men ages 62-65 who worked longer due to the policy change saw a two-month increase in life expectancy during their late 60s.

How much does it cost to live without working? ›

It's called the 25 times rule, and it's very simple. You multiply your annual spending by 25, and that is the minimum amount of money you would need invested to fund your lifestyle without working.

Why is hiring so difficult right now? ›

According to ADP Research Institute's People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View, 7 in 10 workers have considered a major career change this year. Another study found that 55% of hiring managers said retention and turnover are the top issues hurting their ability to hire staff and grow their companies.

Are there enough jobs in America for everyone? ›

There are almost as many jobs available as people who are unemployed. What is the jobs report? Every month the U.S. Department of Labor releases a report on the nation's employment.

What is the largest labor force in the US? ›

In terms of labor force participation, the foreign-born immigrant men from Mexico and Central America are the largest number of participants in the labor force.

Why are there so many unemployed? ›

Low consumer demand creates cyclical unemployment. Companies lose too much profit when demand falls. If they don't expect sales to pick up anytime soon, they must lay off workers. The higher unemployment causes consumer demand to drop even more, which is why it's cyclical.

Is it hard to get a job right now? ›

45% of job-seekers say finding a job is more difficult now than pre-pandemic. What may come as a surprise is that a very similar number of those supposedly sought-after job-seekers, 45%, also say finding a new job is currently more difficult than it was pre-COVID.

Is the labor shortage causing inflation? ›

Econ 101: Inflation is Caused by Supply and Demand

But these aren't two separate issues. The worker shortage is one of many contributing factors—alongside supply chain disruptions, strong demand, and monetary policy—fueling inflation.

How long will worker shortage last? ›

By 2100, as much as two-thirds of the country could be out of the workforce and financially dependent on the remaining one-third, according to an estimate from Hetrick and his co-authors.

What is the lowest paying career? ›

25 of the Lowest Paying Jobs
  • Food-Preparation Workers. ...
  • Gambling Dealers. ...
  • Gambling Change Persons and Booth Cashiers. ...
  • Parking Lot Attendants. ...
  • Non-Farm Animal Caretakers. ...
  • Maids and Housekeepers. ...
  • Entertainment Attendants and Related Workers. ...
  • Shoe Machine Operators and Tenders.
Dec 3, 2022

What are top dead end jobs? ›

Miscellaneous occupations

Dead-end work is usually regarded as unskilled and the phrase usually applies to those working as shelf stackers, cleaners, call center agents, clerks, or in other menial jobs where the pay is low, and the hours are long.

What is the most needed job in the future? ›

10 in-demand careers for the future
  • Healthcare.
  • Construction.
  • Education & Training.
  • App & Software Development.
  • Data analysis.
  • Cyber Security.
  • E-commerce.
  • Product Designer.

What is the richest job you can get? ›

Here are the highest paying jobs of 2023:
  • Anesthesiologist: $208,000.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: $208,000.
  • Obstetrician and Gynecologist: $208,000.
  • Surgeon: $208,000.
  • Orthodontist: $208,000.
  • Physician: $208,000.
  • Psychiatrist: $208,000.

What will be gone by 2030? ›

  • Credit cards. Oh, yes, we'll still be able to pay by credit – that won't be disappearing any time soon – but we won't need those rectangular bits of plastic to do it. ...
  • Cash. ...
  • Passwords. ...
  • Keys. ...
  • Eye glasses (spectacles) ...
  • Airport queues. ...
  • Parking meters. ...
  • Chargers.
Dec 20, 2019

What might replace jobs by 2030? ›

A report from Oxford Economics found that 8.5% of the global workforce could be displaced by robots by 2030. June 26, 2019, at 2:08 p.m. The rise of robots and automation is projected to lead to the displacement of 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030.

What is the easiest industry to recruit for? ›

Recruiting: The 9 easiest jobs to fill in the US
  • Carpenters. ...
  • Production supervisors and assembly workers. ...
  • Pilots. ...
  • Computer software engineers. ...
  • Mechanical engineers. ...
  • Construction workers. ...
  • Tellers. ...
  • Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks.
Jan 11, 2010

What industries are doing well in recession? ›

Generally, the industries known to fare better during recessions are those that supply the population with essentials we cannot live without that. They include utilities, health care, consumer staples, and, in some pundits' opinions, maybe even technology.

What industries need more workers? ›

The Top 7 Industries Hiring Now… and After COVID-19
  • Food retailing and delivery. ...
  • Food product manufacturing and wholesaling. ...
  • Healthcare. ...
  • Information Technology. ...
  • Transport, postal and warehousing. ...
  • Call Centres. ...
  • Mining. ...
  • Post-COVID-19 boom industries.

Will there be an economic crisis in 2023? ›

The bottom line

Signs point to a recession in 2023, not just in the U.S. but globally, though many experts remain hopeful it will not be too severe. This is good news for everyone, as it could mean fewer people lose their jobs, and household financial impacts will be mild.

Will the Great Resignation continue in 2023? ›

The “great resignation” will soon grind to a halt. Last year, more than 4 million people left their jobs each month in the U.S. — but in 2023, there will be less job hopping and fewer counteroffers as the demand for talent and supply of available workers evens out.

What is the labor force participation rate for 2023? ›

In January 2023, about 62.4 percent of the United States civilian labor force participated in the job market.

What will the unemployment rate be in 2023? ›

Unemployment. Reflecting the expected slowdown in economic growth, the overall rate of unemployment is projected to rise from 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022 to 5.1 percent by the end of 2023, averaging 4.7 percent for 2023 as a whole.

How long recession will last in us? ›

Recessions can last from a few weeks to several years, depending on the cause and government response. Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that between 1854 and 2022, the average recession lasted 17 months.

Is America going into a recession? ›

Many economists agree that the U.S. is, for now, not in a recession. The most recent gross domestic product report published last week showed the U.S. economy grew by 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022, following growth of 3.2% in the quarter before.

What is the US debt 2023? ›

In 2023, debt held by the public is projected to grow in dollar terms, to $26,033 billion, but to fall as a percent of GDP, to 101.8 percent. After 2023, debt held by the public as a percent of GDP is projected to gradually increase, reaching 106.7 percent in 2032.

Do people regret the great resignation? ›

Now dubbed the 'Great Regret', analysis carried out by payroll and HR experts Paychex found that 80% of people who quit their roles in search of greener pastures regretted the move.

Is there ever a good time to resign? ›

It's often helpful to resign during the last shift of a workweek, as this decision can benefit both you and your employer. For example, you can complete all necessary tasks before a new week starts and avoid delegating them to other colleagues.

Do workers still have power over their bosses and a recession won t stop the great resignation? ›

Workers still have power over their bosses, and a recession won't stop the Great Resignation. Nearly half of workers plan to find a new job in 2023. Employees in the U.S. can't quit quitting. Even with a recession looming, many workers aren't afraid to leave their job for a better one.

Is the labor force shrinking? ›

Overall, in 2022, employers ended up adding an unprecedented 4.5 million jobs. But at the same time, millions of Americans have been leaving the labor force since before the pandemic. In fact, we have nearly three million fewer Americans participating in the labor force today compared to February of 2020.

What is the highest labor participation rate in US history? ›

Labor Force Participation Rate in the United States averaged 62.84 percent from 1948 until 2023, reaching an all time high of 67.30 percent in January of 2000 and a record low of 58.10 percent in December of 1954.

Which country has the highest labor force participation? ›

Labor force participation - Country rankings

The average for 2021 based on 180 countries was 60.11 percent. The highest value was in Qatar: 87.3 percent and the lowest value was in Djibouti: 31.43 percent. The indicator is available from 1990 to 2021.

Will inflation go down in 2023? ›

According to the IMF, global inflation is expected to fall from 8.8 percent in 2022 to 6.6 percent in 2023, but it will still remain above the pre-pandemic levels of 3.5 percent.

What state has the highest unemployment rate? ›

At the state level, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate for December—the latest month with available data—at 5.2%.
...
States With the Highest Unemployment Rates.
StateUnemployment Rate
Nevada5.5%
Oregon4.8%
Delaware4.6%
Illinois4.6%
1 more row
Feb 3, 2023

Is inflation expected to rise 2023? ›

The slowing economy is likely to bring the yearly inflation rate down to roughly 3.5%-4.0% by the end of 2023. However, this will still be higher than the Federal Reserve's target of 2.0%-2.5%.

Videos

1. The Great Resignation 2022: Where are all the workers?
(ABC7 News Bay Area)
2. 7 million workers will get a raise on January 1 with minimum-wage increases
(CBS News)
3. CBS13 Investigate: Where Did All The Workers Go?
(CBS Sacramento)
4. Why Aren't People Going Back to Work? Labor Shortages Explained
(Bloomberg Quicktake)
5. UK strikes: half a million workers demand ‘fair pay’
(Channel 4 News)
6. How One Small Idea Led to $1 Million of Paid Water Bills | Tiffani Ashley Bell | TED
(TED)
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