Yesterday, we reported on how Black Americans — and Black men in particular — leaving the workforce has caused unemployment numbers to deceptively drop in the last month. But now comes another new and equally disturbing piece of unemployment news: according to additional data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, the U.S. currently has more job openings available now than at any time ever in our nation’s history.
Martha C. White of NBC News reported that “in another drastic reminder of just how fundamentally the pandemic has distorted the labor market, the number of open jobs soared to a record 10.1 million in June .”
According to White, the United States has hit these record numbers for the second time in less than a year, with 9.3 million jobs available just a few months back in April 2021.
Yet despite the abundance of opportunities (and the level of desperation businesses are facing to add new members to their workforces), an estimated 8.7 million American men and women remain unemployed or looking for full-time work.
“This adds an exclamation point or two to the sense of urgency employers are feeling,” Mark Hamrick, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, told NBC.
Chief investment strategist at CFRA Research Sam Stovall agreed, telling White that while the economy is reopening, it’s also going through some serious growing pains.
“Unfortunately, because of the supply-demand imbalance, with so many businesses opening up, the demand has exploded, whereas the supply will take longer to catch up,” he said.
“The number of people who quit their jobs — used by economists as a sort of proxy to gauge worker confidence — rose to 3.9 million in June, hovering near the record of 4 million set in April,” White reported. “Hiring rose to 6.7 million, up from 5.9 million in the month before. Demand for workers was highest among employers in business and professional services, retail trade and hospitality — food service and accommodations.”
In contrast, the number of layoffs occurring in the country continued to decline, dropping to a record low of 1.3 million.
“That tells us the people who accept a job are sticking with a job,” Stovall told NBC. “It could be that more and more companies are increasing salaries in order to attract and retain their employees. If people are making a better wage, a living wage, then they’re more likely to stick with it.”
Industry watchdogs and employment experts say there are good and bad parts to the soaring number of job openings — and both have to do with just how much these new workers are paid once hired. A robust job market pushes demand for qualified workers up, increasing what companies are willing to pay new hires. At the same time, a more expensive workforce can also force companies to raise prices for their goods to continue making a decent profit, driving up inflation and making things more expensive for everyone.
Should schools successfully reopen in the coming weeks, Stovall told White that many hope that parents who have been struggling with childcare will finally be able to return to work, taking on many of these open employment positions.
But as everyone has experienced for more than a year now, the biggest question mark in this equation remains COVID-19.
“If the delta variant causes more concerns from the school systems, from the parents… then I think that the supply-demand curve will take longer to get to equilibrium,” Stovall said.
Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed.com, agreed with Stovall’s sentiments, telling White, “if there’s a slower return to in-person offices, that could slow progress on the attendant jobs depending on downtown business districts.”
“I think there’s a possibility that this [delta variant] wave of the virus could weigh both on labor supply and labor demand,” Bunker said. “We could see a slowdown in that situation, as there is maybe more hesitancy among some people to go to restaurants, to go to large social gatherings or [patronize] other types of businesses that involve large amounts of people being together.”