For the nation to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic we need to get more people back to work. In June 2021 there were fewer than 7 million people holding jobs then there were in February 2020, the last month before the pandemic. We are starting to see wages tick up, which is one key metric towards getting people back to work. Average wages in June 2021 increased by around 3.6% which combined with other benefits such as flexible work schedules should entice more people back to work.
The most popular reasons given for not returning to work are continued fears of the virus, childcare issues, skills mismatches, and the allure of enhanced unemployment benefits compared to the salaries companies are offering. The enhanced unemployment benefits will end and has gotten much media coverage, but the skills mismatch is a huge issue moving forward. As the country learned during the pandemic, not all work can be done remotely. First responders and essential workers, like truck drivers, showed up every day to ensure stores were stocked, hospitals were supplied, and first responders were equipped. Rather than lament the shift to hybrid and work from anywhere models cities like New York should embrace it and reinvest and promote industrial and manufacturing jobs.
To that end, there are some positive signs that the federal, state, and local legislators understand the skills mismatch and are working to rectify it. The past year and half has seen significant supply chain issues and the federal government is making strides to reinvest in the localized supply chain. Meanwhile, New York State passed a law which will allow robust training for 18-20 year olds to qualify for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) class A. At the city level, the most recent budget established money for training and apprenticeship programs in manufacturing, industrial, and transportation fields.