Unemployment Is High. Why Are Businesses Struggling to Hire?

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By contrast, “right now what seems to be happening is that job creation is outpacing the search effort that workers are putting forth,” said Professor Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania. “Compared to how people reacted last spring, it’s not that long ago, but the situation has changed a bit.”

That is to say, a similar decline in workers’ desire to pursue jobs matters more when there are plenty of jobs to go around, which is increasingly the case as the economy reopens.

In other research on the expanded jobless benefits, Peter Ganong of the University of Chicago Harris School and five co-authors found a smaller decrease in the inclination to search for jobs than earlier research would have predicted. In other words, those $600 weekly supplements didn’t decrease employment very much.

But those were circumstances that may no longer apply.

“The goal of government should be to get everyone back to work as soon as possible while continuing to provide economic support to workers who have not gone back to work yet,” Mr. Ganong said. “Those two things were not in tension in 2020, and they are in tension in 2021. All of those things that made 2020 special are receding, so we now face a more traditional set of trade-offs.”

Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has also studied the impact of last year’s expanded benefits, is skeptical that the lure of jobless benefits is the primary explanation. He notes that even with the reported shortages, businesses appear to be successfully hiring at a breakneck pace.

Companies added 916,000 employees to payrolls in March alone, a number matched only by the initial rebound from pandemic shutdowns last summer and in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Moreover, the expanded benefits are scheduled to expire in September.

“Maybe an unemployed person spends several additional days unemployed because of the $300,” Professor Dube said. “But if it’s a problem, it takes care of itself. It’s nothing compared to the broader trajectory of the reopening, which swamps anything on the unemployment insurance front.”

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