‘A job isn’t just a job’: Why some unemployed individuals aren’t leaping at job openings


When Jaime Reuter, 24, was laid off as part-time office manager at Merrill Lynch BAC, + 0.50%, in January 2020, they never imagined that it would take more than a year and a half to find another job.

For the next two months, Reuter, using the she / she pronouns, continuously applied for new jobs outside of finance, an industry they wanted to get out of before being fired.

But in March there was “not even an application,” said Reuter, who is from Staten Island. “Not only was I unemployed, but a lot of the people I knew became unemployed at the time.”

A year and a half later, Reuter had no problem finding job advertisements – by September 2021 they had even applied for more than 200 positions.

“I was rarely denied a job because 90% of the positions I applied for never made contact with me,” says Reuter, who did her bachelor’s degree at Pace University in 2019.

The news of widespread labor shortages and a record 10.9 million job openings felt humiliating, Reuter told MarketWatch.

Reuter recalls her parents asking, “’How can you not get a job with so many vacancies?’ I said, ‘OK, this is my résumé, this is all of my information, get me a job.’ ”

Having high numbers of job openings concurrently with high numbers of job seekers is “definitely not a typical experience” in the job market, said Karen Dynan, a Harvard University economist who served as chief economist at the Treasury Department during the Obama administration.

In the past month, companies created fewer than forecast 194,000 jobs while around 7.7 million people remained unemployed. Yet employers across the country are struggling to fill vacancies with nearly 11 million vacancies.

Reuter was more or less an outlier among the unemployed.

They enjoy working personally and don’t have children to look after – two factors likely responsible for why so many Americans don’t return to work, Dynan said.

But there is more to the story.

More workers are retiring

Before the pandemic, the employment rate of US adults 55 and older was just over 40%. But last month it was below 39%.

“Some people nearing normal retirement age were in better circumstances than usual,” said Dynan.

During the pandemic, like many Americans, people nearing retirement were likely able to save more money than usual, especially during the months when most of the economy was closed. Additionally, their 401 (k) accounts have likely appreciated in value over the course of the pandemic, thanks to a bull market.

Small businesses paralyzed by the pandemic cannot necessarily afford to raise wages

If employers are struggling to fill vacancies, it would make sense to consider a raise. But some small businesses that have been fortunate enough to weather the pandemic lockdown may not necessarily be able to afford to pay their workers more.

Meanwhile large companies like Walmart WMT, + 0.30% and Amazon AMZN, -0.42%,
those also suffering from labor shortages have been able to raise their minimum wages to attract workers. At Amazon, new hires are paid an average of more than $ 17 an hour.

Although Reuter was desperate for a job, they stayed away from low-paying jobs in retail and the food industry.

“It feels like you have to apply for a minimum wage job that has no benefits and you know you are being treated like trash,” Reuter said.

But two weeks ago a friend who works at JP McHale, a pest control company serving the tri-state area, shared the opportunity to work as a customer service representative. Ultimately, Reuter was hired locally for the position, paying $ 19 an hour and having benefits like health insurance and 401 (k) contributions. You start work on Monday.

A job is not just a job ‘

In many ways, the pandemic has spurred more workers to seek employment opportunities that offer better working conditions than their previous jobs, said Kathryn Zickuhr, labor policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-wing nonprofit research and funding organization.

It has also resulted in more workers realizing that “a job is not just a job,” she said.

“It’s about wages, schedule, number of hours, benefits, location” – and because there are so many job offers, more workers are more selective and apply for jobs that tick off their must-have conditions.

But because millions of Americans were deprived of unemployment benefits last month, at some point more workers will have to settle for less than ideal positions.

“While some families may have built up additional savings during the pandemic, those savings will dry up if they are out of work,” said Dynan. “At this point, they will have to take jobs that they may not like.”

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