Where, Oh Where, Have the Applicants Gone

Around the world, airlines, restaurants, hotels and so many others can’t fill open jobs, thwarting efforts to capitalize on resurgent consumer demand. Many workers that went home when the pandemic hit haven’t returned to work, and they aren’t trying to return yet either.

What’s increasingly clear is that after the coronavirus pandemic delivered an unprecedented shock to the global economy, putting tens of millions of people out of work and displacing many others, the job market will never be the same. Some workers retired early; many are skeptical about going back to work in the face of lingering health concerns any many others are having difficulty securing reliable childcare.

The economy emerging from the crisis looks different from the one that preceded it. Demand is higher in some sectors and lower in others. Workers have left front-line jobs in some industries for roles that are less exposed to the coronavirus, won’t be affected by fresh lockdowns, or offer better work-life balance.

Workers are out there, Applicants are not.

The number of job openings increased to a high of 10.1 million on the last business day of June 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Hires rose to 6.7 million and total separations edged up to 5.6 million. The unemployment rate declined by 0.5 percentage point to 5.4 percent in July, and the number of unemployed persons fell to 8.7 million. The deficit is clear, 10+ million jobs and less than 9 million workers available, many of whom aren’t applying for jobs anyway.

Where are the workers?

Some of the reasons businesses can’t find applicants:

  • Location Mismatch: Many people left the big cities for the suburbs and aren’t coming back. Workers recruited closer to home could theoretically fill some of the empty positions, but training won’t happen overnight, especially after on-the-job learning was disrupted by Covid-19. 
  • Bigger shifts in the labor market: As people reconsider what types of jobs they want to hold — and on what terms.
  • Entrepreneurship Movement: 2.5 million new business applications were filed in 2021 as of May. Top of mind, for many people, are working conditions.
  • Lack of Skills: Some who are out of work don’t have the skills needed for jobs that are available or are unwilling and unprepared to switch to a new career.
  • Temporary Benefits: Many people are receiving more in unemployment benefits than they would earn in the jobs available to them.

What can be done?

Get creative. Many companies have found new and creative ways to attract applicants. See our next article, Creative Ways to get Workers Back, to find out what popular actions companies are taking that are making headway.

*US Bureau of Labor Statistics