Understanding the Cause of the Labor Shortage

Labor Shortage: a noun that describes a time period containing a shortage of qualified candidates for employment. Labor shortages stem from many different events and affect an abundance of people in all demographics. Currently, the United States is facing a labor shortage. In 2021, 47 million workers left their jobs, creating an event known as the Great Resignation. And the labor shortage hasn’t improved much since then. But the real question is, how does 15% of the American population resigning from their jobs impact the rest?


To understand the significance of the current labor shortage, one must understand the cause. Yes, 47 million people quit their jobs, inducing a labor shortage, but what drove such a high number of individuals to leave? One thing that made people quit was the lack of living wages, as a $15 minimum could not statistically support families. Another was the pandemic and how it impacted individual lifestyles as a whole. COVID-19 gave a lot of people time to reflect and realize that their current job wasn’t what they wanted out of life. It also allowed many opportunities for flexible careers that didn’t require a physical presence.


Child care was also an issue. With virtual schools and closed daycares, parents didn’t have any other options besides staying home with their children. Health concerns also played a significant role in the labor shortage. COVID-19 is especially harmful to those with immune-compromising conditions, making it unsafe for people to go into a field of work like hospitality because of the constant interaction with others. Feeling stressed and burnt out and, in general, having time to reflect on their career path has led individuals to quit. People also want to “be their own boss,” which has resulted in a rise of small businesses.


While part of the labor shortage is due to the workers' side, corporations or businesses employing also have a part to play in this equation. Part of the issue is employers not responding to job applications. 48% of job seekers surveyed have stated they aren’t finding the right positions for them or the positions they’re interested in pay too low. Another problem is bias and filters, whether through an actual human or computer software. A study by Harvard Business School reported that over 10 million workers’ applications to different job positions were being filtered out. Employers also exhibit bias when hiring, increasing the labor shortage and the gap between the unemployment rate of black individuals versus white, with the former being significantly higher than the latter. Toxic work culture and the discussion regarding it have grown during the pandemic through social media platforms. Overall, a primary cause of the labor shortage is the lack of connectivity between employers and employees.


The current impact of the labor shortage is significant and affects anyone living in the U.S. Employers are attempting to attract potential workers by raising wages and offering benefits. However, this could lead to inflation, which impacts any and every consumer. Currently, lack of labor means supply chain issues on all production fronts. Delayed production and delivery time is a big issue within the supply chain, as there aren’t enough employees to produce and deliver goods as efficiently. Some companies have had to buy more machines to make goods, putting them behind production schedules and budgets. This leads to higher prices for everyone, contributing to inflation.


Analysts have also named future implications if the labor shortage doesn’t improve soon. This includes halting GDP growth, inducing a recession, and hurting the expansion of certain industries dependent on labor. They’ve also named some potential solutions. Employers can improve their workplace benefits, wages, and conditions, as well as alter their vetting process. However, a notable possible solution is the employment of teenagers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the youth unemployment rate dropped to 9.6% as of July 2021. Certain states have also begun to alter child labor laws in order to accommodate more teens in the workforce. Employers also noticed that teens weren’t asking for higher wages, which led them to advertise more flexible schedules and benefits that would appeal to 16-year-olds, like free food. The issue with raised employment in teens is the possible impact on their lifestyles, such as negative academic performance, added stress, and lack of sleep or participation in extracurricular activities.


The labor shortage has impacted those living in the U.S., whether through leaving a job, being in the family of someone who has left their job, or simply being a consumer, watching prices shoot up. Teens will play a role in lessening this shortening of labor, but to what extent? As people move on to retirement or pursue small business, part of the role has fallen onto teens to fill those gaps and keep our society that relies on consumerism running. The future is uncertain regarding industries that depend on labor, but one thing is sure. Teens and young adults are, and will contribute to reducing the effects of the Great Resignation.


Through Teen Lenses: How has the recent labor shortage affected you and your lifestyle as a teen?


“The recent labor shortage has affected my lifestyle as a teen in quite a lot of ways. Places I usually go to spend time with friends are being closed down due to lack of employees and my favorite classes are being cut due to lack of qualified teachers.”
Angeli Cazares, 15, Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School

“Because of the recent labor shortage, we haven’t had enough bus drivers for schools so we have two rounds of buses. I’m on the first round in the morning and the last in the afternoon, so I need to wake up earlier than most students so I can get to the bus on time, and after school, I’m waiting for at least half an hour, and so I have less time to work on school work. Because of this, I’m not getting enough sleep at night and my grades are getting affected which in turn is limiting the amount of time I can spend doing other things that most people would do because I’m trying to get my grades up.”
Swara Kakaraparthy, 14, Mount View Middle School

“The labor shortage actually affected my lifestyle recently. Like, for instance, I can see dozens of places like little shops or restaurants closing down, even places where I used to go and never thought about it ending someday. I actually have a teacher that hasn't shown up for 5 weeks now because he's employed in 4 different high schools and couldn't teach in all of them.”
Coline Groult, 16, Lycée Alain Chartier