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The twin jobs economy: Some can’t find work amid national labor shortage

By David Pendered

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic talked about the long-term and older-worker unemployment situation the day before the Federal Reserve on Wednesday released another report citing a labor shortage in the Southeast and nationwide.

A sign of the peculiar jobs economy is evident in the lack of congestion during the 5 p.m. rush hour at a site that had bustled before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cumberland Transfer Station, in Cobb County. (Photo by David Pendered)

The two observations seem contradictory. However, the two realities are apparent in everyday life in the form of yard waste left on curbs in Atlanta, because the city can’t hire enough workers, and in the number of older neighbors who just can’t seem to get a job and others who are routinely turned down.

Bostic said Tuesday the long-term unemployed and older folks would benefit from better information about the location of job openings and skills needed to get hired. The Atlanta Fed is trying to develop such information and post it on the website, he said.

“People who want to have work are not aware of where are new opportunities to get employed, and they don’t know what skills they have to have,” Bostic said. “That informational piece is really important.”

Bostic spoke in a virtual event sponsored by a website that covers the Capitol, thehill.com: “Back to Work: Helping the Long-Term Unemployed.” The event began with this observation on the homepage:

  • “Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of August, 8.4 million Americans are classified as unemployed, with more than half of jobseekers ages 55 and older remaining unemployed for more than 27 weeks.”

The definition of unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, requires each of the following: Not working during the week surveyed; available to work; made at least one effort to find a job in the past month.

Long-term unemployed refers to someone who meets the criteria above for 27 continuous weeks or more.

The notion that some folks can’t seem to get a job conflicts with the opening sentence in the report Wedneday by the Atlanta Fed. The report is part of the national Beige Book the Fed releases periodically that provides a snapshot of economic conditions as stated by contacts around the country.

The first sentence in the Atlanta Fed’s report on “Employment and Wages” observes:

  • “District contacts continued to report strong demand for labor and the supply of available workers remained extremely tight. Turnover increased as staff left jobs for higher wages, greater flexibility, and better work environments. At the same time, the number of retirements increased.”

Bostic said Tuesday he expects the shortage to ease as workers secure safe, reliable childcare and reach a comfort level with returning to the workplace.

“A quarter of the unexplained gap in worker returns are associated with women with children younger than 6,” Bostic said. “It’s not about income and maybe skills. It’s about how do you manage a family when support systems are uncertain and unmanageable.”

Wednesday’s Beige Book repeated Bostic’s message.

Job hunters are in the drivers’ seat as a result of the labor shortage. This section of the report concluded:

  • “Upward pressure on wages intensified over the reporting period and reports were relatively widespread. Several contacts mentioned that escalating living expenses have become a part of wage negotiations. Wage increases continued to be noted along with signing and retention bonuses. Employers were offering greater flexibility to retain and attract workers when possible and several noted new hires negotiating for more paid time off.”

 

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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