Experts estimate thousands are missing

By Carrie Haderlie, The Sheridan Press Via Wyoming News Exchange

Experts estimate thousands are missing from Wyoming’s workforce, but it’s unclear whether that’s due to the pandemic, ‘silent abandonment’ or the state’s rapidly approaching population of retirement age.

Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the state’s Division of Economic Analysis, said Wyoming’s workforce is still over 7,000 people, or 2.5%, lower than it was before COVID-19.

The percentage of people ages 16 and older included in Wyoming’s labor force, or the sum of employed and unemployed, is also falling. In January 2022, the labor force participation rate hovered just above 63%. The national average is just below 63%, but while the U.S. rate continues to rebound, Wyoming’s rate has held steady or fallen, according to Liu.

“The difference [between the U.S. rate and Wyoming’s rate] was around 6 percentage points, but it’s down to just one percent now,” Liu said.

This reduction gap could be because Wyoming has one of the highest proportions of baby boomers in the country, he continued.

“This cohort, ages 58 to 76 in 2022, has rapidly approached retirement age in recent years, and some of them may decide to retire early because of COVID-19,” Liu said. .

According to a September report by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “The Impacts of COVID-19 Illnesses on Workers,” COVID-19-related illnesses have continued to persistently reduce labor supply.

The authors estimate that workers with one-week absences from work due to COVID-19 are 7 percentage points less likely to be in the workforce a year later, compared to otherwise similar workers who do not miss a week of work for health reasons.

Estimates suggest that COVID-19-related illnesses have shrunk the U.S. labor force by about 500,000 people, for an average shortfall per absence of COVID-19 of at least $9,000.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also estimates that in 2021 businesses created an “unprecedented” 3.8 million jobs, but at the same time labor force participation remained below average. pre-pandemic levels. The national organization estimated in August that there were 3.4 million fewer Americans working during the summer compared to February 2020.

“There are different estimates on this. Some say that two million workers are missing; some say there are five million workers short of what would have been had the balance not been upset,” said Rob Godby, an economist at the University of Wyoming.

The reason workers are lacking in Wyoming could be due to the average age of the population, the pandemic, or the “silent resignation,” a trend that has taken off on social media.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “silent resignation” is driven by many of the same factors as actual resignations, but refers to workers withdrawing from duties beyond their assigned duties or becoming less “psychologically invested” in work.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “silent quitters” can still show up for work, but will be less willing to stay late, show up early, or take on non-mandatory tasks.

“If we have this silent quit phenomenon, if workers don’t do the same, you have a productivity consequence,” Godby said. “So now you need more workers to do the same job.”

According to a 2022 report by Lisa Knapp, a senior research analyst at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, titled “How the Global Pandemic Affected Wyoming Workers,” all sectors of the nation’s economy and its workers have been impacted by the pandemic in due to several factors, including business closures, supply chain disruptions and increases or decreases in product demand.

Nationally, 52% of all businesses had employees who did not work at some point between January 2020 and September 2020, and of these, 51% paid some or all of their employees .

Fast forward two years, and experts say there are even fewer workers in the labor force to do the same or more work than before the pandemic. This means that companies have to make do with fewer people and will likely have to pay more for the workers who remain.

Whether the labor shortage is due to the pandemic or something else, the cumulative effect is felt by both small business and the consumer.

“You may find that some businesses can’t stay open that long. It’s not uncommon to find that businesses are closed on Mondays at lunchtime, for example, or that fast food restaurants may not open the lobby and just open the drive,” Godby said. “The reason they do this is to save on the workers they need.”

This can contribute to higher prices, and consumers may struggle to find help in retail stores and restaurants. Contractors and service workers in other areas may be rare. Godby said the labor shortage could be temporary and the participation rate and labor could return to what it was several years ago, especially as prices continue to rise. ‘increase.

“It could be that the part of the population that was willing to work will go back to what it was before,” he said.

But it could also be a sign of a change in society.

“The pandemic may have taught us, however, that we need to value some things we once took for granted. It is possible that this has led to a long-term change in people’s attitudes and preferences, and that they are no longer willing to work as much as before,” he said.

Michael A. Bynum