Many job openings, yet elevated unemployment – breaking down what is happening in the job market

By Sheilah Howard • Career Services Director

There are two truths about the job market right now. One – there is a near-record number of jobs available. Two – the unemployment rate remains higher now than before the onset of the pandemic.  Simple logic suggests that unemployed workers would be filling these available jobs, especially as wages grow. Yet we are seeing a number of participants in our Career Services programs who are taking longer to get employed.

According to information from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the number of people in the labor force is down almost 100,000 people compared to pre-pandemic levels.  Only 67.7% of the working-age population is working or looking for work, the lowest it’s been since 1979.

There are a number of reasons why people are choosing to not work. One is the continued fear of contracting COVID-19. JFCS’ employment counselors report some participants who have vulnerable members in their household, including children and people with chronic health conditions, are reluctant to look for work. Despite statewide vaccination efforts, there are many who are concerned about working outside of the house, especially in jobs that require face-to-face interaction.

Another challenge, as reported by our employment counselors and confirmed by DEED, is the difficulty in finding reliable childcare. During the pandemic, a number of childcare providers had to decrease staff and program sizes to accommodate social-distancing requirements, or closed either temporarily or permanently. This particularly affected smaller family providers, which many of our participants rely upon for flexible scheduling. In addition, many parents were needed at home to supervise children in virtual learning environments, with schedules that can rapidly change if a class needs to be quarantined.

Some people mention the continued enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit as a factor in whether or not to look for work. Research has shown this additional $300 per week is mostly relevant for those who were laid off from low-wage jobs, especially in hospitality, retail, and food preparation. This is also reflected in the participants we serve. Wages earned would need to be enough to replace this additional benefit as well as cover increased expenses associated with work, like childcare and transportation. The enhanced UI benefit is scheduled to expire in September, and recipients are aware the benefit is temporary. If the right offer came along for stable employment with livable wages, participants would likely choose that over the temporary benefits, if they are able.

One important benefit that JFCS employment counselors are noting regarding the increased UI benefit is the time and space it has provided participants in developing sustainable employment goals. They are able to be more selective in their job search, looking for employers who will have work schedules that meet their individual and family needs, offer benefits and opportunities for advancement, and offer livable wages. With or without the pandemic, our staff help many people establish plans that include reliable childcare, transportation, necessary workplace accommodations, food security, and housing stability. In our holistic approach, we look at the whole person and their household, helping participants develop plans for long-term success.

For more on JFCS Career Services, call 952-417-2111 or click here!