Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Real economic recovery hinges on return to work

Crime, inflation, fuel problem…

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To “Build Back America” key workers must return to jobsites.

It is not good enough for President Biden to lean back on low unemployment numbers and claim success when employers cannot find workers.

Inflation is a huge deterrent. It has been running at over 8%.

Last April, the New York Post reported: “White-hot inflation has forced the average American household to cough up an extra $460 per month, as surging prices for food and fuel put family budgets across the nation under strain.” 

When Biden took office the cost of gas was $2.39 per gallon. Today, it is over $5 in Western Washington, partly because our state’s gas taxes and fees are the fourth highest in the nation at 49.4 cents per gallon.

Lack of public safety is an overriding impediment. Last summer, Amazon’s downtown office employees resumed offsite work because commuters feared for their safety on Seattle streets.

The same is happening with drug overdoses and deaths. “August has been the cruelest on that front too. The city’s 911 system has recorded 53 drug casualty calls just this month, more than double the average from the spring,” Danny Westneat, of the Seattle Times, reported. 

A survey by the Major Cities Chiefs Association revealed that, while homicides and rapes are down in U.S. urban areas compared to last year, violent crime has increased by 4.4% and remains much higher than before the pandemic.

Last December, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll findings spelled trouble for America’s employers whether they are in the private or public sectors. It learned that over 60% of the respondents were in no hurry to return to work and over a third of the unemployed weren’t actively going after a job.

The problem is growing worse. Many respondents felt they can get by for at least another six months before they must find employment. The survey found that one-sixth said the amount of the money they were receiving from unemployment benefits and government programs made it “not worth looking” for work, the Chamber added.

Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 10.4 million job openings, and the people were quitting at a record high. Bottom line: There were 2.3 million fewer workers in the workforce last October compared with the same month in 2019.

No doubt, COVID has changed work and workers. People, who traditionally commuted to the office, worked remotely. A Harris Poll in October 2021 found that 76% of employees want to make work permanently flexible when it comes to location and scheduling.

“The desire for work flexibility is being met with a conflicting message—about three-quarters of their employers think they are more innovative and work harder in the office or on-site,” Harris found.

Not all work can be remotely done or with a flexible schedule. An obvious example is a powerline worker. While electric grid engineers can connect remotely to plan projects, when electric transmission line goes down, it is a whole other story. Sorting out what jobs can be remote is a challenge.

Employers are raising wages and benefits to recruit and retain workers but find it troubling when someone is hired and does not show up for work.

President Biden and Congress need to do their part by lowering inflation, making gasoline more affordable, and reducing crime.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and retired as president of the Association of Washington Business. He now lives in Vancouver, Washington, and can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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