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Editorial: The (work) force is not with you

| July 10, 2022 1:00 AM

Ask Lord Google why there are so many more jobs than workers in the U.S. and you’ll get 842 million answers.

Or you could just ask Sam Wolkenhauer.

Sam is something of a Google god himself. Our regional economist from the Idaho Department of Labor is an adept researcher whose insights into who and what’s pulling the economy’s strings deserve your full attention.

Today and Wednesday, we’re going to borrow heavily from some of good Sam’s hard work in an attempt to help explain what the heck is going on and what might lie ahead. Why now? Well, at least in part because of the powerful and somewhat ominous My Turn by Kootenai Health CEO Jon Ness published in the June 16 Press.

In that piece, Ness cited some info from Wolkenhauer that helps explain the labor shortage, particularly for nurses. In talks and interviews, Sam has given broader context.

He notes that in the previous century, the birth rate was high and the rural lifestyle was strong. Both of those realities have shifted, with birth rates plunging and urban lifestyles ascending.

From 2005-2018, Sam has said, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials were all in the workforce at the same time. That generational trifecta muted impending labor alarms due to the shifts mentioned above.

From 2020 to 2022, our demographics are making the “crossover,” Wolkenhauer said, so that the number of people turning 65 each year is now greater than the number turning 18.

"In other words, our outflow is now larger than our inflow in terms of working-age people," Sam told The Press.

As the labor shift accelerated, the pandemic came along. Unanticipated early retirements are one of the pandemic’s bi-products, further depleting the number of available workers.

So picture this: As workers age out or drop out of the workforce, there just aren’t enough replacements to maintain what’s been in place, let alone grow. Everyone who’s truly capable of working — leaving out the slice of society that’s simply unemployable — already is. And it isn’t enough.

We understand that many of you reading this are retired yourselves and are perhaps not concerned about jobs from a job-seeker’s viewpoint. However, we’ll bet you’re very concerned about how the job shortages will impact you, particularly when it comes to accessing the goods and services you want and need.

On Wednesday, we’ll borrow further from Wolkenhauer’s repertoire and try to explain why availability is displacing affordability. Hint: Keep your eye on Algeria.

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