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Economy

Change Bringing New Opportunity

As the economy reopens in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns, employers are facing a harsh reality. There are simply fewer workers.

Census Bureau estimates show the U.S. working population (ages 16-64) fell 0.1% in 2020. It might not seem like much, but it is the first decline in decades — a result of changes in immigration, a slowing birth rate and the retirement of the Baby Boomers. Given the impact that generation has on the workforce, even a small reduction makes a big difference.

Economists see this as an opportunity: Fewer people of working age means a competitive field to retain employees, which may mean higher pay and other incentives to attract and retain workers. It is no longer a buyer’s market, so to speak.

Gad Levanon, an economist at the Conference Board, told the Associated Press the number of those without a four-year degree will drop as Boomers retire and younger people are more apt to seek a college degree. Industries such as manufacturing, construction, retail, restaurants and hotels will see dwindling numbers of applicants. Levanon said while the number of college grads grows about 2% each year, this also means college students may find it hard to find jobs they believe fit the education for which they paid, and/or companies may inflate job requirements to demand bachelor’s degrees, where one was not necessary before.

It is time to think outside the box. Employers are looking to attract new workers, and to make connections with local high schools to help build a different pathway to careers. College is not the only way.

Educators and potential employees will have to think differently, too. Change can bring opportunity, and that change has begun. All parties must be willing to adjust if that change is to help us leave the economic turmoil of the past 18 months far behind.

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