Source: Economist    2021-05-13  我要投稿   论坛   Favorite  

Labour shortages in America 


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Why workers are hard to find, even though unemployment is high 


The pandemic has led to all sorts of weird economic outcomes. The latest oddity is the growing chorus of complaints in America about a shortage oflabour, even though 8m fewer people are in work today than before covid-19 struck. In early April Bloomberg reported that Delta Air Lines had cancelled 100 flights for lack of staff. People are so hard to find that one café in Florida has turned to robots to greet customers and deliver food. A branch of McDonald's is paying potential burger-flippers $50 just to turn up for a job interview. 


The data back up the anecdotes. Total vacancies are running at their highest level for at least two decades, indicating that firms have plenty of unfilled positions. Furthermore, job openings are leading to fewer hires than you would expect based on the historical relationship between the two. And even accounting for changes in the composition of the workforce, wage growth, at about 3%, has been surprisingly robust, suggesting that firms are offering bigger pay packets to tempt workers. If they persist job shortages could eventually fuel inflation, threatening the economic recovery. 


There are three potential explanations for the puzzling shortages: over-generous benefits; fearful workers; and a reallocation of labour between industries. Start with America's huge fiscal handouts. The latest stimulus cheques, posted in the spring, were for up to $1,400 per person. Seemingly every American knows of a neighbour's cousin's boyfriend who received a "stimmy" cheque, then quit his job in orderto sit on the sofa. A federal supplement to unemployment insurance (UI), currently $300 a week, ensures that four in ten unemployed people earn more from benefits than they did in their previous job. Economic research has long concluded that more generous benefits blunt incentives to look for work. 


Yet this relationship appears to have weakened during the pandemic. The fact that increases in UI payments have been time-limited may make workers reluctant to turn down a job with longer-lasting rewards. In the early part of the pandemic the UI supplement was even more generous, at $600, but its expiry in the summer had "little effect on overall employment", according to a paper published in February by Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Likewise, in the areas where the current $300 is a relatively larger boost to income, employment growth has not weakened since January, when that uplift was introduced. 


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