Where Did All The Workers Go?

It was just eighteen months ago after the pandemic forced a massive shut down of the nation’s economy that the Department of Labor’s unemployment rate reached over 14%, a rate not seen since the 1930s. Now the unemployment rate has fallen to almost pre pandemic levels. Yet there seems to be a severe shortage of workers in many businesses and industries.

During the pandemic, bars, restaurants and hotels shut down. So did entertainment venues such as theatres and movie houses. The travel industry was hard hit as airlines, cruise lines and resorts laid off millions of workers because people weren’t traveling. Retail stores also laid off personnel as more people began shopping on line or using delivery services.

Now, as the nation is emerging from the pandemic forced shut downs, there seems to be a shortage of workers in many companies and industries. There are container ships waiting on our coasts to unload their cargo. But there is a shortage of dock workers and truck drivers. Restaurants are closing because they cannot find enough servers and cooks. So where are all the workers from the days before the pandemic shut down?

Some politicians are saying that people just got lazy and because of special pandemic unemployment benefits that many workers were better off not working and collecting government payments. But those pandemic unemployment benefits ended a few months ago and for most people those pandemic unemployment benefits were not as much as they made when they were working.

With the government’s official unemployment rate down significantly from the highs during the pandemic shut down, where are all the workers? The “official” unemployment rate counts those workers who are employed full or part time, receiving unemployment benefits and are actively looking for work whether collecting unemployment benefits or not. It includes part time as well as full time workers and "gig" workers as long as one is employed somewhere.

Perhaps the answer is that many workers just left the labor force entirely. I know a number of people who were furloughed from their job during the pandemic and had the time and luxury due to the generous pandemic unemployment benefits to take stock of their situation and didn’t like what they saw. Most of those people I know were at or close to retirement age and decided that it was time to retire. After all, the rising stock market had increased the value of their retirement accounts.

I am sure that many were working parents, mostly mothers with dependent children and are unable to return to work because they cannot find dependable child care while they are working. Others, I presume mostly married, learned that the hassles of working such as commuting and juggling child care as well as the expenses of child care and just working wasn’t worth the money that they made on the job and decided that they could just become a stay at home parent while saving that money. Perhaps that job just didn’t pay enough to make it worthwhile to work.

I am sure that many workers in low wage retail and service jobs came to that conclusion, especially married people whose spouse had a job that could adequately support the family. I know that when I was married and had young children, my wife worked at a part time job. But the cost of child care as well as the low pay of the job wasn’t worth the time. I was earning enough money to support the family, so she voluntarily left the labor force to be a stay at home mother. Therefore, I can understand that situation.

Perhaps many workers decided that it was time to return to school, even with on line learning to learn new skills that could lead to a much better paying job. People who are attending college full or part time and not employed are not considered as being part of the labor force.

Then there are those people who simply decided that low wage job with poor working conditions and a bad boss wasn’t worth the trouble of working there. I am sure that might explain why there is a shortage of servers and cooks in food service jobs.

All I know is that this is a complex problem that cannot be solved with a simple solution in a sound bite.


Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

Read More on Opinion
Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 8:51 AM, 11.01.2021