Earlier this year, an insistent cry arose from business leaders and Republican governors: Cut off a $300-a-week federal supplement for unemployed Americans. Many people, they argued, would then come off the sidelines and take the millions of jobs that employers were desperate to fill.
Mississippi ended all emergency jobless aid on June 12. Yet it had fewer people working in August than in May. In Tupelo last week, a job fair attracted 60 companies, including a recruiter from VT Halter Marine, a shipbuilder located 300 miles south. About 150 to 200 job seekers also attended, fewer than some businesses had hoped.
The Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has partnered with local organizations for the 2021 Oxford-Lafayette Job Fair to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lafayette County Multipurpose Arena to combat the job shortages.
Job opportunities spotlighted range from RN and LPN positions, IT positions, human resources, CPA, Forklift and Machine operators, maintenance, housekeeping, correctional officers, production material coordinators, therapists, electrician, cooks, event staff, administrative support, and so much more.
Admission to this event is free. To pre-register as a job seeker go to jobfairs.ms.gov
“A job fair is not just an opportunity for employers to be in a common area to lure potential employees nor is it a place a mall where people can go and shop for the next job that they’ve got,” said Chamber President Jon Maynard. “It’s a two-way street.
“It’s an opportunity for employers to understand more about what job seekers are really looking for, the relationships they can build and how to cater their employment to people as much as it is about seekers finding jobs.”
In states that cut off the $300 check, the workforce — the number of people who either have a job or are looking for one — has risen no more than it has in the states that maintained the payment. That federal aid, along with two jobless aid programs that served gig workers and the long-term unemployed, ended nationally Sept. 6. Yet America’s overall workforce actually shrank that month.
Maynard said the issue the nation is currently experiencing is complex due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The structure of the economy changed in a big way when COVID came in,” he said. “Accomodation and frontline services dried up, [jobs] were gone. People who were working there for years are all, of a sudden, out of work and I think that caused a lot of folks to reevaluate the industry.”
Those re-evaluations have appeared in the form of labor shortages that have persisted longer than many economists expected, deepening a mystery at the heart of the job market. Companies are eager to add workers and have posted a near-record number of available jobs. Unemployment remains elevated. The economy still has 5 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic. Yet job growth slowed in August and September.
The Associated Press found that workforces in the 25 states that maintained the $300 payment actually grew slightly more from May through September, according to data released Friday, than they did in the 25 states that cut off the payment early, most of them in June. The $300-a-week federal check, on top of regular state jobless aid, meant that many of the unemployed received more in benefits than they earned at their old jobs.
An earlier study by economists at the University of Massachusetts and Amherst found that the states that cut off the $300 federal payment saw a small increase in the number of unemployed taking jobs. But it also found that it didn’t draw more people off the sidelines to look for work.
“A lot of people have just decided they don’t want to go back to working in a restaurant because they saw the risks,” said Maynard. “My brother worked in the restaurant industry for years and loved it, but he didn’t find a lot of security in it. They’re choosing not to go back to that but it doesn’t explain every other industry we’re talking to. Every manufacturer, law firms, accounting– they’re having a tough time finding people.”
Economists point to a range of factors that are likely keeping millions of former recipients of federal jobless aid from returning to the workforce. Many Americans in public-facing jobs still fear contracting COVID-19, for example. Some families lack child care.
The pandemic appears to have caused a re-evaluation of priorities, with some people deciding to spend more time with family and others insistent on working remotely or gaining more flexible hours. According to Maynard, many frontline workers found jobs in the gig economy.
“I firmly believe that there are more Uber drivers, DoorDashers and food delivery drivers,” he said. “People are taking advantage of those opportunities. They jumped ship from their regular day to day job. They’re working and paying their bills but they are paying their bills in a totally different way that works below the radar.”
Exacerbating the labor shortfall, a record number of people quit their jobs in August, in some cases spurred by the prospect of higher pay elsewhere.
Adam Todd had organized the job fair for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which helps people find jobs and distributes unemployment benefits. The agency has received “calls of desperation,” Todd said, from businesses needing to recruit workers during the pandemic.
“We’re in a different point in time than we have been in a very long time,” Todd said. “The job seeker is truly in the driver’s seat right now.”