Covid, guns, drugs fuel irreparable labor shortage

A "Now Hiring" sign advertising jobs at a hand car wash is seen along a street in Miami, Florida, U.S. May 8, 2020.
A "Now Hiring" sign advertising jobs at a hand car wash is seen along a street in Miami, Florida, U.S. May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov 4 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The last two years have caused lasting damage to the U.S. workforce. A record 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in August is a big part of the problem. But the pandemic took its toll in other ways, too. Deaths caused by the virus, gun violence and drug overdoses exacerbated shortages. The damage could take years to repair.

Payrolls grew by only 194,000 in September, but still some 10.4 million jobs are left unfilled read more . Starwood Capital founder Barry Sternlicht told CNBC recently that one of his hotels in New York is struggling to fill 40 positions and that pay wasn’t the main issue; people didn’t want to leave their homes.

That’s partly because workers have become pickier. Industries that depend on human interaction faced the biggest loss of workers in August. Nearly 900,000 left jobs at hotels and restaurants, while another 1.3 million quit retailers, and healthcare and social assistance employers, Labor Department data released last month showed. Covid itself has dramatically changed the employment picture, too. About 65% of police officer deaths in the last two years were virus-related, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Pandemic strains had ripple effects, too. More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, a record and a nearly 30% increase from 2019. Gun-related deaths went up by 11% from 2019 to almost 44,000 in 2020 according to Gun Violence Archive. Meanwhile, 2 million more people retired than expected, according to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Put them together and they account for about 5% of the civilian labor force, a large number when drilling down into communities. In the Tampa Bay region in Florida, for example, 30 people died every week from an opioid overdose in the first half of 2020, according to Project Opioid Tampa Bay. About 75% of those people were in the prime working-age population.

Businesses are paying more to attract workers: Average hourly wages have risen by 7% since March 2020. Even so, people are not returning to work. That’s partly because fewer able-bodied people are around. But also because the ghost of Covid will haunt those who are capable of returning to work for some time.

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- Almost 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, the Labor Department said on Oct. 12. Separately, almost 747,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Nov. 4.

- Also, the CDC’s provisional data showed that a record 93,331 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2020, a nearly 30% increase from 2019.

- In another study, there have been nearly 38,000 deaths from gun violence in the United States so far this year, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Editing by Lauren Silva Laughlin and Amanda Gomez

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