The Millions of ‘Missing’ U.S. Workers

It’s no secret that businesses around the country have been struggling to find workers over the last few years. What’s more of a secret is why these businesses are facing such a challenge. Recent research helps shed some light on the issue, or issues, contributing to the shortfall.

COVID Impact on Work Life

“Long COVID, fear of catching COVID, and Americans’ shifting priorities for the balance between work and personal activities may explain more than half of the drop in U.S. labor force participation over the past three years, suggests a paper discussed at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) conference on March 30, 2023,” write Katharine Abraham and Lea Rendell in an article for the Brookings Institute.

Labor force participation was on the decline during the pandemic, dropping more than 3% in early 2020. While many of those 8.2 million workers eventually returned to work, there’s still a shortfall of over 2 million workers when comparing current labor market figures with those in February 2020, just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Challenge and Opportunity

That’s a lot of missing workers, and while this represents an obvious problem for employers, it also represents a potential solution. If employers can find the right inducements, there’s a large pool of workers sitting there. The key, of course, is identifying just what those inducements are. Once employers have an idea of why people are choosing to sit out of the workforce, they may be able to come up with strategies to address their concerns and provide the right incentives.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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