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    Where Jobless Benefits Were Cut, Jobs Are Still Hard to Fill

    Missouri scrapped federal pay to the unemployed, saying it kept people out of the labor market. But so far, workers still seem to be choosy.MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — By lunchtime, the representatives from the recruiting agency Express Employment Professionals decided to pack up and leave the job fair in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights. Hardly anyone had shown up.“We were hoping we would see prepandemic levels,” said Courtney Boyle, general manager of Express. After all, Missouri had just cut off federal unemployment benefits.Business owners had complained that the assistance, as Gov. Mike Parson put it, “incentivized people to stay out of the work force.” He made Missouri one of the first four states to halt the federal aid; a total of 26 have said they will do so by next month. But in the St. Louis metropolitan area, where the jobless rate was 4.2 percent in May, those who expected the June 12 termination would unleash a flood of job seekers were disappointed.Work-force development officials said they had seen virtually no uptick in applicants since the governor’s announcement, which ended a $300 weekly supplement to other benefits. And the online job site Indeed found that in states that have abandoned the federal benefits, clicks on job postings were below the national average.Of course, it’s early. But conversations with employers who are hunting for workers and people who are hunting for jobs in the St. Louis area revealed stark differences in expectations and assumptions about what a day’s work is worth.The divide raises a fundamental question of what a healthy labor market looks like. Does it mean workers are on such a knife edge that they feel compelled to take the first job that comes along? Or is it one in which employers are the ones who have to scramble and feel pressured to raise wages and improve working conditions? Are the economy and the public better off when workers get to be choosy or when employers do?“One way you might define normal is when employers and workers have the same idea of what an appropriate package looks like, and then the issue is matching up the people with the jobs,” said Katharine G. Abraham, an economist at the University of Maryland and a former commissioner at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.“Clearly part of the problem now,” she said, “is that what employers and what workers think is out of whack.”Why businesses are having such trouble hiring when 9.3 million people were unemployed in May is a puzzle that has generated lots of speculation, but little hard evidence. Many economists are skeptical that enhanced jobless benefits have played an outsize role in the hiring squeeze. They are more likely to point to child care and continuing health fears with less than half the population fully vaccinated. Nor should it be surprising that the nation’s road back from the harrowing limbo of the pandemic, in which millions of jobs vanished and more than 600,000 people have died, is bumpy.In any case, the squeeze has given many job seekers the confidence that they can push for higher wages or wait until employers come around.“They know how in demand they are,” said Angelic Hobart, a client service manager at American Staffing who occupied a table at the Maryland Heights job fair. “And I think that is being taken advantage of.” She said she had dozens of manufacturing, warehouse, sales, office and technology positions to fill. But public benefits have made people “very complacent,” she said. And sometimes “their pay expectations are way over what their skill level is.”Many of the 34 employers and agencies at the job fair said they had raised wages by $1 an hour or more in recent months. And they shared a refrain: There were good jobs available but not enough good workers to fill them, those who were reliable and were willing to work hard.That’s not the way Elodie Nohone saw it. “They’re offering $10, $12, $13,” said Ms. Nohone, who already earns $15 an hour as a visiting caregiver and was hoping to find a higher-paying opportunity. “There’s no point in being here.”Her boyfriend, Damond Green, was making his way around the room. He holds two jobs, one at McDonald’s, where after seven years he earns $15 an hour, and another providing home health care. He and Ms. Nohone have a baby on the way, and Mr. Green is looking for one job with higher pay. “Two jobs stretch you thin,” he said.“I want to do something where my work is appreciated,” he said, “and pay me decent.” His goal is to earn $50,000 a year, or about $25 an hour — roughly the median earnings of wage and salaried employees in the United States.The labor market’s deeper problem, said Francine D. Blau, an economist at Cornell University, is the proliferation of low-paid jobs with few prospects for advancement and too little income to cover essential expenses like housing, food and health care.The pandemic focused attention on many of these low-wage workers, who showed up to deliver food, clean hospital rooms and operate cash registers. “The pandemic put their lives at risk,” Ms. Blau said, “and we began to wonder if we are adequately remunerating a lot of the core labor we need to function as an economy and society.”Many economists are skeptical that enhanced jobless benefits have played an outsize role in the hiring squeeze.Whitney Curtis for The New York TimesWorkers at a St. Louis restaurant. In recent decades, a declining share of the country’s wealth and productivity gains has gone to labor.Whitney Curtis for The New York TimesTerri Waters, who showed up at the job fair in search of a high-level marketing job, said she had a greater appreciation for the work done by many low-wage earners. Her marketing business dried up when the pandemic hit, and while job-hunting, she has been working at a natural-food store for $11.50 an hour.“It’s really demanding work, you’re on your feet and by the end of the day you’re tired and sore,” Ms. Waters said. She understood why many job hunters were demanding more. “It’s not that people are being lazy,” she said. “They just want something better to go back to.”Hundreds of jobs were being offered at the fair. A home health care agency wanted to hire aides for $10.30 an hour, the state’s minimum, to care for disabled children or mentally impaired adults. There were no benefits, and you would need a car to get from job to job. An ice rink, concert and entertainment center was looking for 80 people, paying $10.30 to $11.50 for customer service representatives and $13 for supervisors. But the jobs last just through the busy season, a few months at time, and the schedules, which often begin at 5 a.m., change from week to week.In St. Louis, a single person needs to earn $14 an hour to cover basic expenses at a minimum standard, according to M.I.T.’s living-wage calculator. Add a child, and the needed wage rises just above $30. Two adults working with two children would each have to earn roughly $21 an hour.The Biden administration has made clear that it seeks to tilt bargaining power toward workers. At the core of the president’s economic model, said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, “is the view that workers too often lack the necessary bargaining clout to claim their fair share of growth that they themselves are helping to produce.”In recent decades, a declining share of the country’s income and its productivity gains has gone to workers. And for adults without a four-year college degree, the options are especially bleak. From 1974 to 2018, for example, real wages for men with only a high school diploma declined by 7 percent. For those without that diploma, wages fell by 18 percent.For most of the last 40 years, less than full employment has tended to give employers the advantage. As it becomes harder to find qualified candidates, though, employers are often slow to adjust expectations.Among job seekers interviewed at job fairs and employment agencies in the St. Louis area the week after the benefit cutoff, higher pay and better conditions were cited as their primary motivations. Of 40 people interviewed, only one — a longtime manager who had recently been laid off — had been receiving unemployment benefits. (The maximum weekly benefit in Missouri is $320.)In St. Louis, the Element Hotel held a job fair to hire servers, bartenders and front-desk receptionists. Housekeepers were especially in demand. Janessa Corpuz, the general manager, had come in on a Sunday with her teenage daughter to do laundry because of the shortage.The hotel, which is on a major bus line, raised its starting wage to $13.50 an hour, the second increase in two months. It also offers benefits and a $50-a-month transportation allowance. The number of applicants shot up — to 40 from a handful the previous month — after the second wage increase.The search for higher pay and better conditions attracted people to a job fair held by the Element Hotel in St. Louis.Whitney Curtis for The New York TimesShaleece Carter, 27, had a housekeeping job at another hotel, but it was near the airport, and her two-bus commute took two hours each way on a good day, compared with 25 minutes by car. One Saturday, when buses tend to be more irregular, she left her job at 4 p.m. but didn’t get home until 8 p.m. “That was it,” she said.She got an offer on the spot and took it.Justin Johnson, too, already had a job when he showed up at an Express Employment Professionals office. He was working at a pet feed company, earning $14 an hour to shovel piles of mud or oats. But that week temperatures topped 90 degrees every day and were heading past 100.“The supervisor pushed people too hard,” Mr. Johnson said. He had to bring his own water, and if it was a slow day, he got sent home early, without pay for the lost hours.He accepted an offer to begin work the next day at a bottle packaging plant, earning $16.50.Amy Barber Terschluse, the owner of three Express franchises in St. Louis, handles mostly manufacturing, distribution and administrative jobs. Wages, hours and a short commute are what matter most to job seekers, she said, and few would work for less than $14 an hour.Ms. Terschluse said she had also had to educate employers, who have gotten used to low wages and the ability to dictate schedules and other conditions.Some employers, she said, have also gotten into “a vicious cycle of replace, replace, replace.”In industries like hospitality and warehousing, annual turnover rates can surpass 100 percent, which can pare overall growth. Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said good job matches between employers and workers produced the most productivity and engagement.A dynamic labor market is one where the two sides negotiate over compensation, Ms. Daly said. If jobless benefits allow people to be a little more choosy because they are not destitute, she said, then “I, as an economist, predict that will be better for job matches and a better economy in the long run.” More

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    Survey Finds Support for Halting Federal Unemployment Benefits

    A slim majority of Americans say it is time for enhanced unemployment benefits to end.The federal government is providing jobless workers with $300 a week in benefits on top of their regular unemployment payments. Those benefits are set to last until September, although 26 states — all but one led by Republicans — have cut them off early or plan to do so in coming weeks.Critics, including many business owners and Republican politicians, argue that the extra benefits are discouraging people from looking for jobs and making it hard for businesses to find workers. Proponents, including progressive groups and many Democratic politicians, contend that the benefits are needed as the economy continues to heal and while pandemic-related risks remain.Republican arguments seem to be resonating with the public. Just over half of Americans — 52 percent — want the extra benefits to end immediately, according to a survey of 2,600 adults conducted this month for The New York Times by the online research firm Momentive, which was previously known as SurveyMonkey. Another 30 percent want the benefits to end in September as planned. Only 16 percent want the additional benefits to continue indefinitely.Views on the benefits are divided along partisan lines. Of Republicans, 80 percent want the extra benefits to end right away, compared with 27 percent of Democrats. But even among Democrats, most respondents don’t want the benefits to last past September.The survey also asked respondents who weren’t working what was keeping them off the job. Thirty-three percent said they were looking for jobs but “have not been able to find one that is worth taking,” and another 11 percent said they did not feel safe returning to work. Respondents volunteered a range of other explanations, including:“I don’t want to wear a mask and I don’t plan to be vaccinated.”“I am just recently fully vaccinated and will begin driving for Lyft again next week.”“Child care and no luck on job search.”“Age. Companies look at my age and pass.”“Car broke down and no money to fix it.”The survey included 65 respondents who said they were currently receiving unemployment benefits. Asked how they would behave if their benefits were cut off, 17 said they would still not return to work. Most of the rest said they would take a job that paid less than they wanted, made them feel unsafe or offered poor hours or working conditions.As of early June, some 3.5 million people were receiving benefits in states that plan to end some or all of the emergency programs early. A handful of states, including Alabama, Indiana and Missouri, have already cut off extra payments; more than 700,000 people were receiving benefits in those states as of early June. More

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    'I Quit My Job' Is a Signal of Economic Recovery

    With new opportunities and a different perspective as the pandemic eases, workers are choosing to leave their jobs in record numbers.At some point early this year, Justin Hoffman concluded that he was being underpaid.The marketing director at an orthopedic practice in Findlay, Ohio, Mr. Hoffman was making $42,000 a year — about $13,000 less, by his count, than people were making in similar jobs elsewhere.But when he asked for a raise in March, he was given only a small bump in pay. “That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.So after some careful thinking, Mr. Hoffman, 28, did what he had long ached to do: He quit. His last day was June 4.Mr. Hoffman is among millions of workers who have voluntarily left their jobs recently, one of the most striking elements of the newly blazing-hot job market. According to the Labor Department, nearly four million people quit their jobs in April, the most on record, pushing the rate to 2.7 percent of those employed.The rate was particularly high in the leisure and hospitality industry, where competition for workers has been especially fierce. But the number of those quitting registered across the board.Economists believe that one reason more workers are quitting is simply a backlog: By some estimates, more than five million fewer people quit last year than would otherwise be expected, as some workers, riding out the labor market’s convulsions, stuck with jobs they may have wanted to leave anyway. (And the millions of involuntary job losses during the pandemic surely accounted for some of the reduction in quitting.) Now that the economy is regaining its footing, workers may suddenly be feeling more emboldened to heed their impulses.But another factor may be the speed with which the economy has reawakened. As the pandemic has receded and the great reopening has swept across the country, businesses that had gone into hibernation or curtailed their work force during the pandemic have raced to hire employees to meet the surging demand.At the same time, many people remain reluctant to return to work because of lingering fears of the virus, child care or elder care challenges, still-generous unemployment benefits, low wages or other reasons.The result has been an explosion of job openings, despite a relatively high unemployment rate, as businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees — a dynamic that has placed power more firmly in workers’ hands. With employers offering higher wages to attract candidates, many workers — especially in low-wage positions in restaurants and hotels — are leaving their jobs and jumping to ones that pay even slightly more.“There’s a lot of churn in low-wage jobs where people don’t really have a career progression,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. “If you find a job that offers just marginally more, there’s no cost to you in switching.”More than 740,000 workers quit jobs in leisure and hospitality in April, the Labor Department said, for a rate of 5.3 percent. A vast majority were in accommodation and food service.The pandemic has driven workers to quit for other reasons as well. With fewer opportunities for spending, some people were able to save money and pay down their debts, giving them a cushion to leave jobs with which they were dissatisfied. Other workers, disinclined to give up remote work, are abandoning jobs that are no longer affording them as much flexibility.For Mr. Hoffman, the decision to leave his job was the culmination of months of perceived injustices, which he said he was able to evaluate more clearly because of the pandemic.As coronavirus cases swelled in the fall, he asked to work from home because of the risk he feared he posed to his sister, whose immune system is compromised. His request was denied, he said, crystallizing his sense that he was not respected or valued.Over the last year, with the pandemic limiting his social interactions, he began to network over Twitter with other people in marketing. That was how he determined that he was being significantly underpaid.Mr. Hoffman, who is now looking for work, said he probably would have quit eventually. But the pandemic, he said, hastened his decision.“I think that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, then things wouldn’t have turned out this way,” he said. “It didn’t just change my perspective on my compensation, but I think it’s changed a lot about my understanding of the relationship between employers and employees.”A restaurant in Louisville, Ky., advertised it was hiring. More than 740,000 workers quit jobs in leisure and hospitality in April, the Labor Department said.Amira Karaoud/ReutersOn a more philosophical level, the constant threat of illness, more time with family members, leisure time that gave way to new passions — all may have prompted some workers to reassess how they want to spend their time. Burned out, some people have left their jobs for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like traveling the world. Others have seen an opportunity to shift careers or branch out on their own.Start-ups surged during the pandemic, particularly in Black communities, as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits helped seed entrepreneurs’ dreams and bolster their confidence.“The pandemic, for a lot of people, was really stressful and caused a lot of uncertainty, so I think what a lot of people did was reflect on their lives,” said Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University who studies employee resignations.Dr. Klotz said people were accustomed to work being at the center of their lives and identities — a reality that may have shifted during the pandemic.“In general, we want a life of contentment and a life that has purpose,” he said. “And I think for many people, they’ve discovered that contentment and purpose for them may lie outside of work.”That was the case for Matt Gisin, 24, who gave notice at his job as a graphic designer at a health and wellness company this month. During the pandemic, he was able to work remotely, and without a commute, he had more time for hobbies like CrossFit and video game streaming.“I got very adjusted to all of this time and all of this freedom,” he said.But slowly, his company began requiring employees to come back into the office, first for two days a week, then three, then four. With so many people commuting to work in their cars, his trip from his home in Mamaroneck, N.Y., to the middle of Long Island could stretch to two hours each way, leaving him little time for his pastimes.“I wasn’t happy anymore,” he said. “I was finding happiness in a lot of outside activities so I took this kind of leap to leave.” He now hopes to find a job in the video game industry.Economists expect the elevated level of quitting to continue for some time, as the pandemic eases and the economy rebalances.“I would be surprised if this ended before the summer ended,” said Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist for the hiring site Glassdoor. But he also said there was an “expiration date”: A high number of workers quitting will contribute to a labor shortage, eventually forcing employers to raise wages and provide other incentives, which will help lure workers back and re-establish economic equilibrium.In the meantime, he said, workers — especially those with low wages — will continue to gain leverage over employers.“The longer these shortages persist, the more bargaining power you put into the hands of very low-skilled workers,” he said. “There is some evidence that employers are moving in response, and that’s unusual.” More

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    Employers Offer Incentives for Job Applicants

    Employers are finding ways to get applicants in the door, and to retain employees once they’re hired.College subsidies for children and spouses. Free rooms for summer hotel employees and a set of knives for aspiring culinary workers. And appetizers on the house for anyone willing to sit down for a restaurant job interview.Determined to lure new employees and retain existing ones in a suddenly hot job market, employers are turning to new incentives that go beyond traditional monetary rewards. In some cases, the offerings include the potential to reshape career paths, like college scholarships and guaranteed admission to management training programs.Despite an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent in May, the sudden reopening of vast swaths of the economy has left companies scrambling for workers as summer approaches, especially in the service sector. What’s more, in many cases the inducements are on top of increases in hourly pay.The result is a cornucopia of new benefits as human resources officers and employees alike rethink what makes for a compelling compensation package. And in a pathbreaking move, some businesses are extending educational benefits to families of employees.The labor market was relatively tight before the pandemic stuck in early 2020, with an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent, but the rise of noncash offerings is a new wrinkle. Many large companies find themselves pitted against other giants in the search for workers with similar types of skills and experience and want to stand out, especially in the rush to staff back up after the pandemic.“We knew we had to do something radically different to make Waste Management attractive when you have other companies looking for the same type of worker,” said Tamla Oates-Forney, chief people officer at Waste Management. “There is such a war for talent that compensation isn’t a differentiator.”“You can never have too many drivers,” she said. “When you think about Amazon and Walmart, we’re going after the same population.”The company will pay for employees to earn bachelor’s and associate degrees, as well as certificates in areas like data analytics and business management. In a significant expansion, Waste Management will begin offering these scholarships to spouses and children of workers this year for enrollment in January.“We can do something that really changes people’s lives,” said Jim Fish, Waste Management’s chief executive. “For someone with kids in high school, this is a big deal.”JBS USA, the nation’s largest meatpacker, began offering to pay for college degrees for its 66,000 workers as well as one child per employee in March. The move followed an increase of more than 30 percent in hourly pay over the last year, said Chris Gaddis, head of human resources at JBS USA.At large beef processing plants, floor workers earn $21 an hour, with salaries rising to $30 an hour for employees with more advanced skills. “We’re seeing a lot more innovation both in terms of wages and secondary incentives, but nobody is doing what we’re doing in terms of rural America,” Mr. Gaddis said.The educational incentives at JBS and Waste Management are designed both to reduce turnover and to attract new employees. Each company fully pays tuition at a selected group of institutions; the JBS program offers a wider variety of majors and certificates. With dependents covered for schooling, careers can stretch from years to decades instead.Each time an hourly employee leaves Waste Management, it costs a minimum of $12,000 to search for and hire a replacement, Mr. Fish said. What’s more, among drivers, 50 percent of safety incidents involve those with three years or less on the job.“In terms of safety, the longer you are here, the better you are,” Mr. Fish said. And by paying for education, he added, “there is a real hook.” Waste Management estimates the cost will be $5 million to $10 million for the first year of the employee program.In the wake of the pandemic, employers are thinking more holistically about their employees and their goals, including personal and family life, said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. Extending the benefits to spouses and children seeks to address those considerations.“You can’t hide your family life,” Ms. Konkel said. “Everybody has had to wildly change what they’ve done the last 15 months.”As generous as the incentives may seem, they can be cheaper than across-the-board pay raises, said Daniel Zhao, a senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. Still, he said, “committing to a new benefit program is a pretty significant move and signals a longer-term commitment than coupons or one-time bonuses.”Nataly Mendoza Yanez joined JBS four and a half years ago as a production floor employee in Tolleson, Ariz., before moving to the human resources department. With help from the company, she is planning to study international business at nearby Glendale Community College in August.“It feels like the opportunity fell from the sky,” said Ms. Mendoza Yanez, who hopes to work for JBS’s unit in Australia one day. “I’m really excited about it. I was going to go back to school, but it’s pricey.”Nataly Mendoza Yanez, who works for JBS in Tolleson, Ariz., plans to use the company’s help to attend a community college.Caitlin O’Hara for The New York TimesThe competition for new hires is especially intense in the leisure and hospitality industry, which has surged back to life after shutting down almost completely last spring.Applebee’s is seeking to hire 10,000 people this summer and announced last month that it would hand out vouchers for a free appetizer to anyone who scheduled an interview. Hoping for 10,000 applicants, the restaurant chain got 40,000 as a result of the offer, said John Cywinski, Applebee’s president.“Our No. 1-selling category is appetizers, so we decided to offer an app for an app,” Mr. Cywinski said. “I’ve got guests coming back in droves, but I don’t have all the team members I’d like.”To attract workers this summer, Omni Hotels & Resorts is offering a range of incentives, including free hotel rooms for summer employees at some properties, as well as guaranteed entrance into the company’s management training program for staff members who stay through Labor Day. New employees will also receive three free nights at the Omni hotel of their choice.“We have put aside guest rooms in our hotels so employees wouldn’t need to worry about where they would live so they could take this job,” said Joy Rothschild, Omni’s chief human resources officer. “We have never taken guest rooms out of inventory for housing before.”Members of the culinary team will get a free set of knives, and weekly sit-downs with the executive chef in the kitchen where they work so they can tap the chef’s expertise.“We needed to do something to grab the attention of culinary students,” Ms. Rothschild said. “I’ve seen a lot of people offering monetary incentives, but we didn’t feel that was enough. The college students coming want something more than the paycheck.”Not that cash has gone completely out of style — all of Omni’s summer hires get a $250 signing bonus plus a $500 retention bonus at the end of the season.Omni has also raised pay and created new tiers in some jobs based on experience. Entry-level housekeepers earn $16 an hour at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, while those with more than two years’ experience now come in at $17 an hour.Chuck E. Cheese, the family entertainment center chain, is hiring 5,000 employees this summer and recently expanded its scholarship program. It is also offering employees $1,500 bonuses when they refer managers.Ms. Rothschild believes that the additional incentives are needed to fill the ranks. If anything, she added, new ones are on the way.“I don’t think we’re done with incentives,” she said. “We want to see how much traction we get with these, but I suspect we will be coming out with more.” More

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    Workers Are Gaining Leverage Over Employers Right Before Our Eyes

    “Employers are becoming much more cognizant that yes, it’s about money, but also about quality of life.”The relationship between American businesses and their employees is undergoing a profound shift: For the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand.The change is broader than the pandemic-related signing bonuses at fast-food places. Up and down the wage scale, companies are becoming more willing to pay a little more, to train workers, to take chances on people without traditional qualifications, and to show greater flexibility in where and how people work.The erosion of employer power began during the low-unemployment years leading up to the pandemic and, given demographic trends, could persist for years.March had a record number of open positions, according to federal data that goes back to 2000, and workers were voluntarily leaving their jobs at a rate that matches its historical high. Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that analyzes millions of job listings a day, found that the share of postings that say “no experience necessary” is up two-thirds over 2019 levels, while the share of those promising a starting bonus has doubled.People are demanding more money to take a new job. The “reservation wage,” as economists call the minimum compensation workers would require, was 19 percent higher for those without a college degree in March than in November 2019, a jump of nearly $10,000 a year, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.Employers are feeling it: A survey of human resources executives from large companies conducted in April by the Conference Board, a research group, found that 49 percent of organizations with a mostly blue-collar work force found it hard to retain workers, up from 30 percent before the pandemic.“Companies are going to have to work harder to attract and retain talent,” said Karen Fichuk, who as chief executive of the giant staffing company Randstad North America closely tracks supply and demand for labor. “We think it’s a bit of a historic moment for the American labor force.”This recalibration between worker and employer partly reflects a strange moment in the economy. It’s reopening, but many would-be workers are not ready to return to the job.Yet in key respects, the shift builds on changes already underway in the tight labor market preceding the pandemic, when the unemployment rate was 4 percent or lower for two straight years.That follows decades in which union power declined, unemployment was frequently high and employers made an art out of shifting work toward contract and gig arrangements that favored their interests over those of their employees. It would take years of change to undo those cumulative effects.But the demographic picture is not becoming any more favorable for employers eager to fill positions. Population growth for Americans between ages 20 and 64 turned negative last year for the first time in the nation’s history. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the potential labor force will grow a mere 0.3 to 0.4 percent annually for the remainder of the 2020s; the size of the work force rose an average of 0.8 percent a year from 2000 to 2020.An important question for the overall economy is whether employers will be able to create conditions attractive enough to coax back in some of the millions of working-age adults not currently part of the labor force. Depending on your view of the causes, the end of expanded pandemic-era jobless benefits might have an effect too. Some businesses may need to raise prices or retool how they operate; others may be forced to close entirely.Higher wages are part of the story. The jobs report issued on Friday showed that average hourly earnings for nonmanagerial workers were 1.3 percent higher in May than two months earlier. Other than in a brief period of statistical distortions early in the pandemic, that is the strongest two-month gain since 1983.But wages alone aren’t enough, and firms seem to be finding it in their own best interest to seek out workers across all strata of society, to the benefit of people who have missed out on opportunity in the last few decades.“I’ve been doing this a long time and have never felt more excited and more optimistic about the level of creative investment on this issue,” said Bertina Ceccarelli, chief executive of NPower, a nonprofit aimed at helping military veterans and disadvantaged young adults start tech industry careers. “It’s an explosive moment right now.”In effect, an entire generation of managers that came of age in an era of abundant workers is being forced to learn how to operate amid labor scarcity. That means different things for different companies and workers — and often involves strategies more elaborate than simply paying a signing bonus or a higher hourly wage.At the high end of the labor market, that can mean workers are more emboldened to leave a job if employers are insufficiently flexible on issues like working from home.It also means companies thinking more expansively about who is qualified for a job in the first place. That is evident, for example, in the way Alex Lorick, a former South Florida nightclub bouncer, was able to become a mainframe technician at I.B.M.Mr. Lorick often worked a shift called “devil’s nine to five” — 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. — made all the more brutal when it was interspersed with day shifts. The hours were tough, but the pay was better than in his previous jobs, one at a retirement home and another serving food at a dog track. Yet it was a far cry from the type of work he had dreamed about in high school, when he liked computers and imagined making video games for a living.As a young adult, he took online classes in web development and programming languages, but encountered a Catch-22 many job seekers know well: Nobody wanted to hire a tech worker without experience, which meant he couldn’t get enough experience to be hired. College wasn’t for him. Hence the devil’s nine to five.Until late last year, that is. After months on unemployment during the pandemic, he heard from I.B.M., where he had once applied and been rejected for a tech job. It invited him to apply to an apprenticeship program that would pay him to be trained as a mainframe technician. Now 24, he completed his training this month and is beginning hands-on work in what he hopes is the start of a long career.“This is a way more stable paycheck, and more consistent hours,” Mr. Lorick said. “But the most important thing is that I feel like I’m on a path that makes sense and where I have the opportunity to grow.”Before Adquena Faine began an I.B.M. apprenticeship to become a cloud storage engineer, she was driving for ride-hailing services to support herself and her daughter, dealing with the erratic income and sore back that came with it.“I really hate driving now,” she said. “I could feel the car vibrating even when I wasn’t in the car.”She had attended but not completed college, and served in the Air Force, but the information technology industry was new to her.“They were confident they could teach me what I needed to know,” she said. “It was intense, but I didn’t want to let myself down or my baby girl down.”The hiring of Ms. Faine and Mr. Lorick was part of a deliberate effort by I.B.M. to rethink how it hires and what counts as a qualification for a given job.The apprenticeship program began in 2017, and thousands of people have moved through that and similar programs. Executives concluded that the qualifications for many jobs were unnecessarily demanding. Postings might require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, for example, in jobs that a six-month training course would adequately prepare a person for.“By creating your own dumb barriers, you’re actually making your job in the search for talent harder,” said Obed Louissaint, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for transformation and culture. In working with managers across the company on training initiatives like the one under which Mr. Lorick was hired, “it’s about making managers more accountable for mentoring, developing and building talent versus buying talent.”“I think something fundamental is changing, and it’s been happening for a while, but now it’s accelerating,” Mr. Louissaint said.Efforts like the one at I.B.M. are, to some degree, a rediscovery in the value of investing in workers.“I do think companies need to relearn some things,” said Byron Auguste, chief executive of Opportunity at Work, an organization devoted to encouraging job opportunities for people from all backgrounds. “A lot of companies, after the recessions in 2001 and 2008, dismantled their onboarding and training infrastructure and said that’s a cost we can’t afford.“But it turns out, you actually do need to develop your own workers and can’t just depend on hiring.”Any job involves much more than a paycheck. Some good jobs don’t pay much, and some bad jobs pay a lot. Ultimately, every position is a bundle of things: a salary, yes, but also a benefits package; a work environment that may or may not be pleasant; opportunities to advance (or not); flexible hours (or not).Statistics agencies collect pretty good data on the aspects of jobs that are quantifiable, especially salary and benefits, and not such great data on other dimensions of what makes a job good or bad. But it is clear, as the labor market tightens, that people routinely favor those less quantifiable advantages.That has become vividly apparent in the restaurant industry, which is facing extreme labor shortages.“Traditionally in restaurants, it was: ‘Hey, this is the job. If you want these hours, great; if not, we’ll find somebody else,’” said Christopher Floyd, owner of the hospitality industry recruitment firm Capital Restaurant Resources in Washington. “Now employers have to say, ‘You have the qualities we’re looking for; maybe we can work out a more flexible schedule that works for you.’ Employers are becoming much more cognizant that yes, it’s about money, but also about quality of life.”Whether it’s a bigger paycheck, more manageable hours, or a training opportunity offered to a person with few formal credentials, the benefits of a tight labor market and shifting leverage can take many forms.What they have in common — no matter how long this shift toward workers lasts, or how powerful a force it turns out to be — is that it puts the employee in the position that matters most: the driver’s seat. More

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    Black and Hispanic Women Still Behind as Jobs Rebound

    The labor market recovery is uneven. Teenagers are flooding back into jobs, while those older than 55 are less likely to work than before the pandemic.Black and Hispanic women are lagging furthest in returning to work.Percent change in the number of employed people since before the pandemic, by race, ethnicity and gender More

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    The Luckiest Workers in America? Teenagers.

    Teens are picking up jobs — and higher wages — as companies scramble to hire. But that trend could have a downside.Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families. More