Many of us have participated in or heard our friends, coworkers, or family members as we’ve gathered for the holidays or caught up over Zoom talk about their desire to have more flexibility in their jobs to be with loved ones, the stresses of working full-time and having kids at home doing school remotely, or dare I say… the desire to return to the office and connect in person. Some of us are in the office, masked and still having to zoom in to meetings, but also be in person? Others are working all of their hours, double masked, just hoping that they make it through the day healthy.
As an analytics consultant, I have a particularly unique workspace perspective in that I think about people analytics a lot, and I can tell you — that even the experts have questions. The past nearly three years has caused a big flurry of unprecendented data changes when it comes to looking at trends around Americans within the workforce. Each month during the pandemic up until February 2022, BLS has even produced a special report on how COVID may have affected even how we collect data traditionally for reporting on labor efforts .
The pandemic as it relates to the workforce has begged a lot of questions, for one being — what the heck is happening?
Most of us at this point in the pandemic have been affected in a variety of ways by COVID. One of those ways, and the focus of today’s blog is the workforce.
Previously been told by employers that working from home is unfortunately impossible (and in many cases that continues to be the case), for many of us whose jobs allow us to work from home now during the pandemic, it begs the question of why we weren’t doing this all along. It also makes us question what is “essential” work in order for people (and the economy or the state of our country) to survive, spurring conversations about the service industry and increased sexual harrassment .
For many young folks in the U.S. we’ve questioned whether our jobs are exactly what we want to be doing right now.
In fact nearly a third of Americans under 40 have had thoughts of changing our careers, according to a poll conducted by Washington Post-Schar School of Policy and Government, and published widely by the Washington Post.
We’ve seen higher demands for minimum wages, which in many spaces have not kept up with costs of living, according to MIT and widely published by CNBC . The minimum wage has also not kept up historically either (see image below), adjusted for for inflation .
So all of this gets a lot of young people thinking— why are we working so hard to not feel financially able to buy a house, pay off student loans, or raise a family, within an environment affected by a global pandemic and a lifelong fight against climate change?Furthermore, about 30% of all US adults, and 40% of adults 18–29 have seriously considered moving —either considering moving somewhere much cheaper or living in a place they’ve always wanted to. And in part a remote work environment has helped make that happen for many (but of course, not all). Maybe it’s time to even move abroad — over 143 countries have laws against working over hours, the U.S. is the only country in the Americas that doesn’t have an official guaranteed paid parental leave policy, and certainly in the minority of countries worldwide [6,7]. We also spend more time working than many countries, with an average workweek of 39.8 hours, that’s about 40% of our waking life assuming you’re getting 8 hours of sleep, and an annual average of 1766 hours working .
All of these changes and thinking have had nationwide effects in unprecendented ways.
On the left there’s a BLS graph left titled “Job openings, hires, and separations levels, seasonally adjusted” (althought the x-axis was poorly displayed it ranges from November 2004, to November 2021 and tick marks represent a full year ). It shows an overall increase in open positions to which hiring cannot keep up with (maybe it’s time to reform your hiring processes?).
A second graph below shows arecord high quit rate in the US in November 2021 .
This comes after quit rates hit a dip in 2020 following 10 consequtive years of quit rate increases . That being said, BLS also reports that “the labor force participation rate was unchanged in December (about 60%), slightly lower than February 2020.
A Desire to Feel Valued
Are people just done working? Are they taking time off or retiring early? After seeing a record high of separations at the height of the pandemic in early 2020, perhaps people are finally feeling a bit more stable at work, and with it, a desire to feel valued — not just as potentially disposable workers when times get tough, but as parents, partners and people with ambitions.
So what does all of this mean? Who knows. Only time will be able to tell us if we’ll get back to pre-pandemic labor rates, or if this is a more telling route of where the labor market and employee demands are headed. My own hope is that we as individuals continue to value our precious time, understand what we need to live successfully and fruitfully, and pursue it full-heartedly. On that lighter note, in addition to labor records being broke, some inspiring world records were broke too, like the most money raised for a charity walk in 2020 or a remote virtual charity concert, the longest Hot Wheels track, and the most chest to ground burpees in 24 hours.
I hope this helps inspire us all to get out (or stay in) and do what it is you truly want to do with your life.
Quick note: National trends may not represent your community’s trends. You can always check out bls.gov for more regional breakdowns to understand whether what you’re experiencing aligns with the experience of other Americans. Another chart below that didn’t quite make the story cut .
- Bureau of Labor & Statistics. Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Employment Situation News Release and Data. https://www.bls.gov/covid19/effects-of-covid-19-pandemic-and-response-on-the-employment-situation-news-release.htm
- Elliot, D. (2020, December 6). Tipped Service Workers Are More Vulnerable Amid Pandemic Harassment Spike: Study. The Coronavirus Crisis. broadcast, Pittsburgh, PA; National Public Radio.
- Long, H., & Clement, S. (2021, August 16). Nearly a third of U.S. workers under 40 considered changing careers during the pandemic. The Washington Post. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/08/16/us-workers-want-career-change/
- Iacurci, G. (2021). Many Americans, especially families, can’t live on a $15 minimum wage.https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/21/15-minimum-wage-wont-cover-living-costs-for-many-americans.html
- FRED Graph. U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Minimum Hourly Wage for Nonfarm Workers for the United States. Inflation adjusted (by FRED) via the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All Items in U.S. City Average (CPIAUCSL). Graph retrieved February 8, 2020.
- ILO. International Labor Organization: More than 120 Nations Provide Paid Maternity Leave. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_008009/lang--en/index.htm
- Livingston, G., & Thomas, D. (2019). Among 41 countries, only US lacks paid parental leave. Pew Research Center, 16. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/16/u-s-lacks-mandated-paid-parental-leave/
- StatExtracts, O. E. C. D. Average annual hours actually worked per worker. Organisation for Economic.https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS#
- Bureau of Labor & Statistics. (2021). Number of quits at all-time high in November 2021. TED: The Economics Daily. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/number-of-quits-at-all-time-high-in-november-2021.htm
- Akinyooye, L., & Nezamis, E. (2021). As the COVID-19 pandemic affects the nation, hires and turnover reach record highs in 2020. Monthly Lab. Rev., 144, 1. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2021/article/as-the-covid-19-pandemic-affects-the-nation-hires-and-turnover-reach-record-highs-in-2020.htm
- Suggitt, C. (2020, December 21). Amazing records broken during the lockdowns of 2020. Guinness World Records. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2020/12/amazing-records-broken-during-the-lockdowns-of-2020-643161
- Bureau of Labor & Statistics. “Metropolitan area unemployment rates, November 2021, not seasonally adjusted”. Graph retrieved January 8, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/charts/metro-area-employment-and-unemployment/metro-area-unemployment-rates-map.htm#