Workers in short supply

I’ve no desire to write about the current meetings of the legislature.  It’s enough to know that a couple dozen legislators are vying for headlines crediting them with solving a problem that doesn’t exist.  

Whether the Constitution gives the President the power to mandate large companies to require vaccinations is a valid, legal question that several states, including Idaho, are arguing through the courts. 

But we don’t need legislators collecting $35,000 in per diem expenses to create unenforceable new laws of questionable legality–and adding another $2 million to the legislature’s legal fund.  

 So I’ve been looking for something more cheerful and uplifting to write about–and I found it.

The U.S. employment numbers have rebounded much faster than predicted. Unemployment is down from 14.8% of the workforce in April 2020 to 4.8% in September 2021.  Latest figures indicate there are 10.4 million job openings in the United States and 7.7 million unemployed. As AP reporter Christopher Rubaber put it, “Workers have gained the upper hand in the job market for the first time in two decades.”

And they know it. Nearly 3% of workers quit their jobs in August and another 3% in September. The average pay raise for those changing jobs in September was 5.4%–and employers struggling to keep workers paid those who didn’t change jobs an average of 3.5% more.

“Lower-paid workers have seen the biggest gains, with pay rising for employees at restaurants, bars and hotels by 8.1% in the third quarter from a year earlier. For retail workers it’s jumped 5.9%” (Rubaber). 

Now, that’s good news, right? 

But every silver lining seems to have a cloud–or two. 

Americans are spending 14% more on material goods–and less on services–than they were prior to the pandemic. And, apparently, some companies overseas and some shipping lines cut back or even closed entirely due to lack of orders, restrictions, or illnesses during the pandemic. They have been slow filling orders.  

But now goods are flowing into the ports at L.A. and San Diego–which are also understaffed.  Under current labor law, port truckers are not employees, but independent contractors. They not only pay for their own expenses and the employers’ share of social security taxes, they aren’t eligible for unemployment.  When pandemic shutdowns cut shipping, many had to find jobs elsewhere. 

Yes, the economy is recovering so fast from the pandemic shutdown that the supply chain is struggling to catch up. And Republican pundits are insisting that this temporary bottleneck is a negative for President Biden.   

The second cloud is inflation. According to the Consumer Price Index Survey, prices have gone up an average of 6.2% during the last six months. Much of the increase was in the price of gasoline, fuel oil, and natural gas (up 50%, 59%, and 28%). 

Now, some are saying that we will always have inflation when wages go up. Some go so far as to blame President Biden’s clean energy plans for current gas prices.    

Others–including big money investors in the bond market–see the current inflation as temporary. Higher wages increase demand but, over time, demand should also increase supply.

 And gas prices? Hurricane Ida damaged both U.S. oil drilling and refining capacity when it cut through the Gulf of Mexico in late August. And OPEC is increasing capacity little as winter is hitting Europe.

I side with those that believe that both problems will solve themselves as the economy adjusts to increased demand. 

And it’s good to know the importance of workers is getting some deserved attention.     

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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