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Labor shortages in education, health care and railroad jobs fuel labor crisis

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Exhausted workers in education, healthcare and rail industries are being pushed back after months of understaffing

Striking nurses call for better working conditions on the public sidewalk outside Riverside Hospital on Sept. 13 in Minneapolis. (Annabelle Malkovich of The Washington Post)

The U.S. economy was plunged within hours of the shutdown due to a dispute between labor unions and railroad companies over sick pay and scheduling. This highlights how a shortage of workers is dramatically reshaping the U.S. workplace, driving exhausted workers back.

With more than 11 million job openings and just 6 million unemployed, employers have struggled for more than a year to hire enough people to fill them. This mismatch is frustrating, burnout, and fueling new power struggles in the workplace.

The railroad dispute, which the White House helped resolve early Thursday morning, has received the most attention, but many other strikes have spread across the United States. , health workers in Michigan and Oregon recently authorized a strike. Seattle teachers called off his week-long strike and delayed the start of the school year.

At the heart of each of these challenges is a widespread labor shortage that has caused deteriorating working conditions. Labor shortages in key industries such as healthcare, hospitality and education are putting unprecedented pressure on millions of workers. We will ignite a wave of labor unrest and a new effort to organize nationwide.

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Too many industries still struggle to find workers. He’s one percentage point lower than in February 2020, according to Labor Department data, at 62.4% of working-age Americans who have or are looking for a job.

The reasons are complex and wide-ranging. Early retirement, the massive slowdown in immigration that began during the Trump administration, and ongoing childcare and caregiving challenges coupled with COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths are all reducing the number of available workers.

Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, said: “That’s a big number. It means that the people who are still out there and in these jobs have a lot more to do.”

The stress of working in an understaffed workplace plays a large role in worker demands. This is often related to staffing or shortages. A teacher in Seattle wanted to improve the special education teacher-student ratio. Railroad conductors and engineers were asking for sick leave. Also, nurses who have stopped working in Minnesota said they are looking for more flexible schedules and protection against retaliation for reporting cases of understaffing.

Lisa Lynch, an economics professor at Brandeis University and former chief economist at the Department of Labor, said, “If you look at sectors like nursing homes, local schools and railroads, employment is down like stone.” With that comes a significant increase in labor and strike activity.People are tired and overworked.”

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The US economy has officially regained the 20 million jobs it lost at the beginning of the pandemic, but the increase has been uneven. Large shortages persist, particularly in low-wage industries, where workers are being displaced by higher-wage opportunities such as warehousing, construction, professional and business services. The hospitality and leisure industry has lost her 1.2 million jobs since February 2020. Meanwhile, rail transport has lost her 12,500 jobs.

After months of juggling additional duties, Sabrina Montillo quit her $19 an hour job as a teaching assistant in the Bay Area in August. She now takes care of her two young children full-time and she said she doesn’t know when she will be back at work.

“Since the pandemic began, we have been incredibly short staffed,” said 33-year-old Montijo. “There was no one there, so I had to work overtime. I had to start over.”

Between the added pressure at work and struggling to find affordable childcare, she says it made sense to quit. Income from her husband’s job as a butcher at Safeway It wasn’t easy to manage with just one, but Montijo says it’s better than the alternative.

“I got to a point where I felt like I had no choice,” she said. “I had to prepare arts and crafts, do science projects, make phone calls, talk to my parents. ”

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Worker burnout is a persistent problem across the economy, but labor economists say it’s especially noticeable in industries where labor shortages are severe. Many workers on the front lines of retail, restaurants, education and healthcare have been working throughout the pandemic, often with their health and well-being at risk.

Employers across the economy say they are struggling to find and retain workers, but labor shortages are plunging into retail (about 70% of job vacancies remain pending), manufacturing (about 55% of %), most notably in Leisure and Hospitality (45%). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce analyzed data from the Department of Labor.

Paige Ouimet, professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, said, “The hardest part of recruiting is people with very long hours, inflexible schedules, low salaries, and limited benefits. It’s a job,” he said. Focuses on finance and labor economics. “Moving an employee this way and asking him to increase production by 20-30% because he’s understaffed is a very short-term strategy. You’re going to keep losing people.”

In many cases, employers have started raising wages in hopes of attracting new workers. Wage gains were highest in minimum-wage industries such as hospitality, where average hourly wages increased by 8.6% from a year ago. (This compares to her 5.2% increase for all workers.)

But while these wage increases may not be enough to attract or retain workers, economists say they contribute to inflation. Restaurants, airlines, healthcare companies and shipping companies are all charging more, they say, in part because of rising labor costs.

Aveanna Healthcare, a provider of home health care and hospice services, is working with its affiliated Medicaid program to increase reimbursement rates to offset higher salaries for nurses.

“Inflation has driven our employees to seek jobs that pay higher wages,” Chief Executive Tony Strange said on an earnings call last month. “In the specific markets we serve, on average he needs to raise his wages by 15% to 25%. To do.”

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New inflation data released this week showed that prices remain high, largely due to rising costs of services including health care and transportation. Prices for televisions and furniture are highly dependent on material and shipping costs, but economists say service inflation tends to be closely tied to workers’ wages.

“It’s clear that a tight labor market is leading to higher wages, which in turn leads to higher prices,” said Jason Furman, an economics professor at Harvard University. It’s a trend and it’s much harder to bring it down.Gasoline prices are very volatile.Commodity prices are somewhat volatile.But in services, if the price is high one month, it’s probably high the next month. will keep.”

It is unclear if or when many people who left the workforce during the pandemic will return. This is especially true for workers over the age of 55, who are leaving work at a higher rate: the job market is short of more than 500,000 workers in that age group.

Edelberg of the Brookings Institution said, “There has been a very noticeable and sustained decline in labor force participation among workers over the age of 55.” I am leaving the workforce.”

Nashville resident Joseph White lost his job at Guitar Center six months after the pandemic. But he says enough is enough. The store was constantly understaffed and customers were out of control. In one instance, a shopper pointed a gun at him for trying to enforce the company’s mask mandate.

“I’m tired. I’m tired and old,” said the 62-year-old man. “I worked to death for so long that in the end I said I could never go back.”

He started using Social Security payments to make ends meet and helps his wife run a small shop, Black Dog Beads. But White says he has no intention of joining the workforce again.

“Even though we have less income, our quality of life is much better,” he said. “I’m tired of being a commodity.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley and Jeff Stein contributed to this report.