Sensible theories tell us that unemployment insurance levels could reduce workers’ job search intensity, but well-done studies found that wasn’t really the case in 2020. Demand may be rising faster than supply but things are changing fast, systematic data is slow, and so anyone who tells you they know exactly what’s happening in America broadly now is wrong.
What else is going on here?
Assuming employed, essential workers were more likely to get vaccinated earlier, the non-vaccinated rate is substantially higher for working-age Americans who are not working. My analysis of census data shows that, in January through March, for every 10 percent of working-age people vaccinated, about 1 percent more became employed. Our working-age employment rate remains about three percentage points down from February 2020. If this relationship continued to hold as we vaccinate the next 30 percent of working-age Americans, the remaining employment gap could close. It’s not that simple, but I do think that it suggests that public health remains the first-order issue.
For employers with some flexibility in setting wages, they may not raise wage offers to new hires because internal equity then pressures for raises to incumbents and that reduces their profit. These employers will feel like they want to hire, but not so much that they will raise wage offers enough to attract candidates. They will cry about labor shortages but not compete hard.
What can companies do to attract workers?
First, make the job better. Improve wages, benefits, training, safety and respect. Ensure every supervisor treats employees with respect. Are any consistently experiencing higher turnover in their unit?
Second, promote public health by taking coronavirus precautions. This will help everyone and reassure workers who’ve stayed out of the labor market due to health concerns.
Third, be more transparent about what the job offers. Many managers post vague job openings in order to preserve their bargaining flexibility, so they can make a tailored offer after learning about a specific candidate’s circumstances. However, vague vacancy descriptions can lead to two kinds of expensive errors. First, some people who would be a good fit don’t apply because they can’t recognize that the job would be a good fit. Second, people who would not be a good fit apply because the ad is not clear and then the manager has to waste time interfacing with them.