« Compensation Times

Where Did All the People Go? 


The number of open jobs now exceeds the number of unemployed workers. Across the national workforce employers are struggling to fill open positions, and they are finding that the skill sets of many of the available people don’t match the needs of the open jobs. So why has that happened, and where did all of the people go?

This Shortage Isn’t New

Well, the first thing to remember is that this labor shortage was becoming a problem before the pandemic. Many employers had trouble finding applicants, let alone qualified candidates, before 2020. For some professions, there was a shortage that goes back many years.  

The Breaking Point

The pandemic caused a big shock to the system and pushed the labor shortage over the edge. Many people stopped working during the pandemic, and with that time away, gave serious thought to what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives. For some that meant no longer working in a lousy job, for a lousy employer, for lousy pay. 


Let’s say that again: People will no longer work in a lousy job, for a lousy employer, for lousy pay. << Understanding that sentence is key to understanding the state of the workforce today.


Surveys taken in the summer of 2021 showed that half of all employees would change their career or the industry they worked in if they could. And, more than a third said they would quit their current employers at the first opportunity. They were serious. The proof is in the rate of resignations that happened in 2021. 

Some Industries are Disproportionately Affected 

The rates of resignation aren’t the same across every industry. More than a quarter of all healthcare workers have quit healthcare in the last 18 months and continue to quit at a rate of about 3% of the workforce every month. Even harder hit industries were retail and hospitality, where front-facing workers simply got tired of abuse from customers, and the inconsistent part-time shift schedules their employers provided. Not to mention the stress of working on the front lines during a pandemic.


So where did they go?

Employees who were nearing retirement age simply retired early. Others re-examined their finances and realized that most of their pay was going to childcare, and that they needed to be home to deal with their children’s remote learning. Taking advantage of both the newfound time on their hands and supplemental unemployment payments, some people learned new skills to take on more ideal job opportunities. While others turned their hobbies into businesses or became part of the gig economy – after all, all the home shopping we did needed to be delivered by someone.

What has become abundantly clear is that they don’t want to come back to what they left behind.