To say the COVID-19 pandemic has changed this is understating the meaning of understating.

The lockdowns of 2020 and the economic, social and cultural fallout that resulted continues to resonate a year later. Even after the federal government spent $18 billion for vaccines which have now received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), our society struggles to return to normal.

The federal government has spent trillions of dollars in an effort to minimize the impact of the lockdowns and speed the recovery. The Payroll Protection Program (PPP), a forgivable loan program, helped many businesses tread water during the depth of the lockdown. Direct payments to households and extra credits for children are being given.

The government also gave extra pandemic unemployment compensation of $300 or $600 a week, in addition to regular unemployment benefits. These extra pandemic benefits ended earlier this month.

The pandemic unemployment benefits have been the topic of debate as to whether or not it has contributed to the continuing shortage of workers.

The shortage of workers has crippled many businesses, resulting in shortened hours and less staffing. Other businesses have increased starting wages, offered signing bonuses and increased wages for existing workers. All of these things have added costs to employers and will either result in higher prices or lower profits.

It’s my opinion that the pandemic has exacerbated and accelerated a demographic shift in our nation. The baby boomers, born after World War II, are now retiring, creating many job openings. The successive generations have fewer members since the “boomers” didn’t have as many children as their parents. It’s a math problem that is now playing out in real time.

Simply put, there aren’t enough people to do the jobs. Technology and automation can help with some of the tasks, but there is and will continue to be a shortage of workers. 

The people in the workforce have many more options for employment. The pandemic gave some the opportunity to work from home, providing more freedom and flexibility to do their work. While at home, some discovered or rediscovered the simple joys of family. 

I believe this is the reason many are hesitant to return to a work/life that they now value more than compensation. 

I don’t personally know anyone who received pandemic unemployment benefits that were more than they were paid to work or could get to work in the tighter labor market. It’s a tempting thing to blame, but without proof, it becomes as popular as the latest bit of gossip.

The shifting and evolving labor market will force us all to reevaluate what is important to workers. Is it the hourly rate? Is it flexibility to care for children or parents? Is it benefits or perks? Is it the mission of the company?

The shortage isn’t going away. I believe we need to honestly and openly discuss immigration and finding jobs for those who want to come legally to our nation. We also need an amnesty to allow illegal immigrants a path to becoming taxpayers.

Employers will need to listen to their workers or prospective employees and find ways to innovate and adapt. As customers, we will need to be financially supportive and patient from a customer service perspective as the places we love struggle to find their way in this new reality.

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