Worker shortages are fueling America’s biggest labor crises


Abha Bhattarai, MSN

Sep 16, 2022


The U.S. economy came within hours of shutting down because of a standoff between unions and railroad carriers over sick pay and scheduling, highlighting just how dramatically staffing shortages have reshaped American workplaces and driven exhausted workers to push back.


With more than 11 million job openings and only 6 million unemployed workers, employers have struggled for more than a year to hire enough people to fill their ranks. That mismatch has left employees frustrated and burnt out, and is fueling a new round of power struggles on the job.


 While the railway dispute, which the White House helped resolve early Thursday, has garnered the most attention, a number of other strikes are spreading across the United States. Some 15,000 nurses walked out of the job in Minnesota this week, and health-care workers in Michigan and Oregon have recently authorized strikes. Seattle teachers called off a week-long strike, delaying the start of the school year.


At the center of each of these challenges are widespread labor shortages that have caused deteriorating working conditions. Staffing shortfalls in key industries, such as health care, hospitality and education, have put unprecedented pressure on millions of workers, igniting a wave of labor disputes as well as new efforts to organize nationwide.


Too many industries are still struggling to find workers. The share of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one is at 62.4 percent, a full percentage point lower than it was in February 2020, according to Labor Department data.


The reasons are complex and broad. Early retirements, a massive slowdown in immigration that began during the Trump administration, as well as ongoing child care and elder care challenges combined with covid-related illnesses and deaths have all cut into the number of available workers.


“We have approximately 2.5 million fewer people in the labor force than we were on track to have with pre-pandemic trends,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. “That’s a big number, and it means that people who are still there, who are still working these jobs, are having to do even more.”


The stress of working at a job that’s understaffed is playing a big role in workers’ demands...


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