By Guy Page
More Vermonters are working than during the “lockdown” lowpoint of April 2020, but the numbers are still below pre-pandemic employment figures.
According to Vermont Department of Labor statistics, before the pandemic about 315,000 Vermonters were employed in non-farm work (statistics don’t include farm work, for some reason). That figure cratered to 247,000 in April 2020, due to pandemic-related business closures and slowdowns, both as a result of public health policies and market forces. But since July of last year, the total number of non-farm employed Vermonters has hovered around 300,000, showing steady but incremental improvement.
“Though April numbers show gains to the labor force and the number of employed Vermonters, there is a still a gap between jobs available and the number of unemployed,” Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said. “The ratio is approximately 3 to 1 – for every three open jobs in Vermont, there is one person categorized as ‘unemployed’. While the definition of ‘unemployed’ can be narrow, the 3-1 ratio highlights the tight labor market conditions and the need to increase the labor force to meet the current hiring needs of Vermont employers.”
Vermont is not still paying generous “pandemic” unemployment benefits, and has not for about a year. The gap of about 15,000 employed Vermonters, despite the unprecedented demand, has led some Vermonters to wonder why. Vermont Daily Chronicle has asked the governor’s office for details. Meanwhile, the following possibilities could be suggested:
1) Plenty of retirements as the Baby Boom Bubble hits the 70’s.
2) Sideways move into unregulated independent contractor work or underground economy.
3) Homelessness up 7%, according to an admittedly subjective state poll. It’s hard to land a job when there’s no place to live.
4) Some Vermont households discovered they could live with less income, and are choosing to do so.
5) More people are unemployable due to substance abuse problems. In some cases, their rent is being paid for at times by out-of-state drug dealers using their apartment as a crib.
6) Lingering illness.
7) Dissatisfaction in some job sectors, including:
Schools. The Barre Unified School District has 68 employees not returning this year. (50 slots had been filled as of last week.) Among the reasons cited was the difficulty in dealing with remote learning, and the worsening behavior of students, due in part to pandemic isolation. Other school districts also report higher-than-usual turnover.
Police. Almost all Vermont police agencies are understaffed. Lower pay, expensive housing, and antipathy towards police all are cited as reasons for officers leaving.
Legislature. More than 50 of the 180 members of the General Assembly are not seeking re-election. Reasons given are many including, poor pay, dissatisfaction with communication and incivility, Zoom fatigue, and retirement. Unlike schools and police, however, there is no shortage of candidates seeking legislative work.