“Everybody is hiring — every role, every job, every career, every location,” he said. “I have never seen that before.”
As companies scrambled to fill openings, workers increasingly have been offered more choices among employers, along with higher wages, better benefits and more flexibility. What has been dubbed “The Great Resignation” is in many ways, just a widespread worker realization that they have choices among employers, he said.
“They can get more money or work from home? Of course, they’ll switch,” he said.
Among those hiring for blue-collar, front-line jobs, there is a similar jostling for employees, said Jill Eubank, vice president of sales and customer experience at national staffing company Randstad.
“This is a weekly conversation that we are having with a lot of companies,” she said. “We are often asked, ‘What do I have to pay?’”
The answer, she said, is often: More.
A warehouse that offered $13-an-hour in starting pay two years ago must now pay $16 or $17 to find workers, she said.
Even in normal times, people stop working to become caregivers, retire, take a break, return to school or because they are discouraged about finding a job. Usually, robust hiring draws many of them back into the labor pool. But now, few people are jumping back in, so companies are siphoning from a shrinking pool.
Younger people have not made up the difference, and immigration has been dramatically down the past several years.
That smaller pool is a key reason the unemployment rate — which only counts those who are looking — has fallen so far. The jobless rate nationally is 4.2%.
Most federal programs that had bolstered the finances of the pandemic-unemployed ended. So those still on the sidelines include some struggling with childcare, some who were killed or disabled by COVID-19 and some who decided to get by on a partner’s income.
“The pandemic is the gorilla in the room,” said labor economist Ian Schmutte at the University of Georgia. “A significant chunk of population continues to have concerns about contracting COVID or bringing it home.”
The omicron variant just renews that worry, he said. “And that acts as a drag on labor force participation.”
Many of those holding back have a different outlook than in the past, Butler said. “The pandemic has reset the way people look at life in general, and that has to mean a change in the workforce.”
Overall, the biggest factor in the loss of available workers is demographic — older workers are retiring faster than new ones are entering the job market, he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the baby boom generation is checking out and they are not coming back.”
November, 2021: 13,500
Average November, pre-pandemic: 2,750
November, 2021: 2.8%
October, 2021: 3.1%
Pre-pandemic low: 3.4% (Dec. 2000)
Nov. 2021: 146,218
Feb. 2020: 179,769
Change in Labor Force*
Nov. 2021: -235
Since Feb. 2020: -32,000
Average pre-pandemic November: 3,465
Change in jobs since Feb. 2020
Couriers and messengers: +23%
Warehouse and storage: +22%
Arts, entertainment, recreation: -6%
Air transport: -8%
Food service and drinking: -10%
*Those working or looking for work
Source: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics