- Employers are in what The Washington Post calls the "biggest scramble for workers in decades." The U.S. unemployment rate is at a record 17-year low of 4.1%, the Post reports, citing November's labor numbers. At the same time, job openings have reached 6 million, a high that's held steady for the last five months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- The percentage of Americans who are employed or actively job hunting deceased from 66% in 2007, the start of the deep recession, to 62.7% today. The labor shortage spans states, industries and levels of specialization, from winter resorts and transportation to construction and oil, says the Post.
- Experts debate whether the tax cuts recently passed by Congress will help companies much with the labor shortage. Employers often report trouble finding workers with the right skills, but, according to a WTVA report, Susan Helper, a Case Western University professor and former chief economist with the Commerce Department, says that if employers really wanted to find skilled workers, they would raise wages.
While the debate over the nature of the skills gap may continue, the tight labor market currently belongs to job seekers, who can afford to reject openings that don't meet their demands. To attract and retain them, employers have turned to increased wages, flexible work schedules, well-being programs and development opportunities. And those that lag behind may end up paying more for talent in the long run.
In response to the tax cuts, a variety of employers have offered wage increases and other community investments as a show of good faith, but it remains to be seen what kind of long-term effect the cuts may have on the skills gap.
Employers who maintain that highly skilled talent is hard to find for specialized jobs are, at the very least, not alone; the IT industry reports a shortage of cybersecurity specialists, and employment experts predict that jobs that are automated will be followed by jobs requiring advanced skills. Employers may need to invest in training the workers they need and even provide upskilling for jobs that don't currently exist.
But external forces are also diminishing the workforce. The opioid epidemic has decreased men's participation in the workplace by 20%. Alan Krueger, a Princeton University researcher, told the Post that the percentage for women is even higher, at 25%.
Employers also face labor shortages for seasonal jobs and high-level tech jobs usually filled by foreign national workers on visas. A number of hospitality employers, in particular, have sought immigration reform to ease their talent burdens. The current administration, however, is pointedly "Hire American;" the U.S. is set to end the policy allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. under H-4 visas, for example.