Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Industries with big worker shortages have big rural stakes

As the nation rumbles back to life after the pandemic, many industries—some with a large rural presence—are having trouble finding new workers. 

It's a tight market, but not a true labor shortage in most cases: there were a record 9.3 million job openings in April, but 9.3 million Americans were unemployed in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Andrew Van Dam reports for The Washington Post. The problem is more often that workers in industries that largely shut down during the pandemic found work elsewhere, have health and safety concerns about returning to work in certain industries, or lack child care. 

Many employers have been able to fill positions when they raise wages, but sometimes that isn't enough, Van Dam reports. The Post analyzed federal data for hundreds of sectors and identified those that haven't been able to find new workers despite raising wages to sometimes record levels. The story lists the top sectors most desperate for workers and discusses why each is having such a hard time.

Sawmills top the list, with employment only recently returning to pre-pandemic levels despite paychecks that have increased nearly 10 percent since last year. Henry Spelter of Forest Economic Advisers told Van Dam that sawmill workers aren’t highly paid, and some may have preferred to stay home, avoid the coronavirus and draw stimulus checks and extra unemployment benefits.

Other industries noted in the story include textiles, specialized long-haul truckers, movers, specialty contractors and veterinarians. Pandemic demand is a common thread in many of those: people have been moving out of cities and trying to fix up their new houses, and interest in pet adoption soared during the past year. So did reports of stress and poor mental health, Van Dam reports.

Many meatpacking plants are also struggling to find enough workers, prompting companies like Tyson Foods to sweeten the deal with more attractive work schedules, more convenient medical care, and higher pay, Christopher Doering reports for Food Dive.

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