The unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent this summer — the lowest level in more than 50 years. While that is good news to celebrate this Labor Day, there is another side to the nation’s historically low unemployment numbers.
Across every sector, businesses can’t find workers to fill open positions, even when they increase pay and benefits or go so far as to pay candidates to attend job interviews. There are 10.7 million job openings in the U.S., but only 5.7 million unemployed workers. Even if every unemployed American found a job, we would still have five million jobs unfilled. But for America’s broken immigration system, immigrant workers could fill many of these jobs — and it is U.S.-born citizens who would benefit the most from their contributions.
For consumers, the labor shortage means empty shelves, higher prices, and long waiting times, whether for a restaurant table or in the emergency room. The labor shortage is especially acute in services we need the most. As students return to school, the National Education Association estimates a shortage of 300,000 teachers and support staff across the nation. In a recent survey, 90 percent of nurses were considering leaving the profession in the next year. Nearly 1 million new STEM jobs will come open over the next decade, but it’s not clear that the U.S. educational system is preparing students to fill those jobs.
In the agricultural sector, the labor shortage is causing sticker shock at the grocery store, with some families skipping meals due to inflation. Food prices are 10 percent higher than last year — the biggest increase in 40 years. At this year’s Labor Day barbecue, hamburgers will cost 36 percent more than last year, pork and beans will cost 33 percent more, and homemade potato salad 19 percent more, according to data from the American Farm Bureau Federation.