The jobs report issued last week was widely seen as disappointing, as the economy added 266,000 jobs in April. Per Reuters, the report was expected to add as many as 1 million due to the effects of the American Rescue Plan. Another government report this week found that job openings had reached a new record total of 8.1 million.
“The April report instead raised a broad set of questions about the complicated interplay among peoples' decisions about whether to work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, constraints stemming from the lack of child care and closed schools, the slowing pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, global supply bottlenecks for critical goods like semiconductors, and the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that may be encouraging some potential workers to stay home,” the Reuters analysis said.
Another news report this week looked at another possible effect of the jobs report: Companies seem to be raising wages, and they may end up raising them even further.
According to Business Insider, some large companies have begun to raise hourly pay in order to incentivize people to return to work. Chipotle recently announced that it will raise worker pay by $2 an hour, joining other companies like Amazon and Walmart. And since the crunch appears to be affecting the food industry greatly, some restaurants have begun offering greater incentives, including everything from “signing bonuses to leadership conferences to 401(k) matching,” Business Insider said.
“My expectation is that, as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments," the president said this week at the White House. "And if they do, they'll find plenty of workers and we're all going to come out of this together better than before.”
The extended unemployment benefits, passed as part of the American Rescue Plan, are scheduled to run out in September.
Whether it’s the unemployment benefits that are directly causing the labor shortage is a matter of some dispute, with some arguing that other factors — including the fast reopening, and accompanying quick rise in demand — are at play. In addition, some workers are skittish about returning to work in an environment where the pandemic is still not entirely over, especially in the food service industry.
“In the absence of the benefits there would probably be a little bit more applications and hiring would be a little bit easier, but the main drive of the recent change in sentiment is that hiring is accelerating,” University of Pennsylvania economist Ioana Marinescu told the Guardian in a report this week.
“You had a tight enough labor market which led to broad-based wage growth of the sort we hadn’t really seen since maybe the 70s,” University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube told the Guardian. “And that was unusual and yes, employers had a hard time filling vacancies and they had to raise wages a lot and that’s OK.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.