Demand for labor is so strong now that there are more job openings than workers officially listed as unemployed in Ohio and across the U.S.
Nationwide, there were 10.6 million job openings at the end of November, according to the most recent federal data. Meanwhile, the number of people listed as unemployed fell to 6.4 million in December.
It's a similar story in Ohio, where 381,00 openings were posted in November, federal data show. The state's last unemployment report for November showed 275,000 unemployed workers.
Worsening the shortage is fed up workers quitting jobs in near record numbers, though many likely are taking better jobs.
Federal data show 2.8% of all workers in Ohio, 153,000 in total, quit their jobs in October. While high, that's down from 3% in August.
"The labor market continues to be very tight, led primarily by pandemic factors which are keeping many workers out of the labor force," said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. "There are more jobs than available workers and record numbers of employees are quitting, both signs of tight market conditions. We have not seen much indication of an easing of the market, especially with COVID cases surging again."
Higher wages not enough to bring workers back amid COVID challenges
In response, employers have been boosting wages, paying bonuses and providing perks such as covering college tuition. Wages have risen a strong 4.7% over the past year nationally, according to federal data.
Workers dropped out of the labor force soon after the pandemic started, and some have yet to return.
Child care challenges and fear of getting sick or bringing COVID-19 home, among other reasons, have kept them out of the workplace. Older workers retired early, and employers say other applicants don't have the skills they're looking for.
Ohio still needs about 220,000 workers and jobs to get back to where it was before the pandemic.
The shortage has been pronounced in many industries, but lower-wage jobs have been the most affected.
As of August, Ohio employment rates for high-wage workers, defined as those making at least $60,000 a year, have increased 18.8% since the pandemic started, according to tracktherecovery.org, a website created by Opportunity Insights, a Harvard University research institute that tracks the economy's path during the pandemic.
For middle-wage jobs, those earning $27,000 to $60,000, the increase has been 7.1%.
But the state still has 18.8% fewer low-wage jobs than it did before the pandemic began.
What businesses need to do to retain, attract workers
The workers left behind have complained of burnout as employers add longer shifts and more duties.
Businesses will have to adapt to keep workers happy and to meet customers' demands, Ayers said. That could, for example, include allowing employees to work remotely.
"Businesses will have to be creative in this hiring environment and to keep current employees happy," Ayers said. "But workers are especially valuing advancement opportunities and positive work-life balance which become even more important when comparing job options."
Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University, takes a broader view of who is considered unemployed, one that greatly expands the number of people eligible for a new job.
"I think that’s misleading in terms of the health of the economy," Kaboub said of official unemployment data.
To be counted as unemployed, people have to be actively looking for work.
But the pool of potentially eligible workers could be expanded to include the 3.9 million people who are working part time because their hours have been reduced or they are unable to find full-time work, according to federal data. There were also 5.7 million workers not counted as being in the labor force but yet currently want a job.
There are also people with disabilities or criminal records who struggle to find work, he said.
"The longer you're unemployed the more likely you are not to be hired," he said.
A multiprong approach needs to be taken to bring more people into the labor force that address issues such as training, housing, access to transportation, counseling for those with alcohol or drug addictions, help for high school dropouts and help bringing people back to work who have been in prison, he said.
"Otherwise, they're coded as unemployable," Kaboub said.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Worker shortage: Ohio has more job openings than unemployed