Poll workers count ballots at the Maricopa County’s Tabulation and Voting Center (MCTEC) in Phoenix, Arizona on November 6, 2020.
Jim Urquhart | Reuters
Those who fill the Oval Office in 2021 will face a challenging economy, but an employment picture that seems to have at least unexpected momentum.
The gain of 638,000 non-farm workers in October underscored both the resilience of the economic system and how far the business community must be from the damage it caused in the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic.
In March and April, 22 million jobs were lost, of which 12.1 million were restored. That means companies are still hiring, but many workers – 11.1 million – are still looking for jobs and facing a challenging landscape themselves.
At the top of the president’s agenda, whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump, will be to continue to improve the broken labor market.
“We are definitely seeing signs of a recovery in demand across all areas of the job market,” said Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America, a global human resources agency. “The next president will have a changing job market. We still have nearly half the unemployed we need to get back to work. That’s the job.”
When Trump took office in 2017, he inherited a labor market that was still creating 176,000 jobs per month, but which apparently ran out of steam as economists forecast much slower profits.
Instead, wage growth continued briskly with a monthly payroll spike averaging 173,000 per month through the end of 2019. However, a few months later, the world hit the Covid-19 buzzsaw that forced much of the US economy into hibernation.
New skills, new jobs
The service sector in general, and the hospitality industry in particular, have been particularly hard hit, from which they are still recovering.
Although the market is still very loose, Fichuk sees a high demand for her company from companies that want to fill positions.
“Demand has shifted and some segments will never return,” she said. “The workers were evicted. We had strong headwinds even before the pandemic.”
However, in the Trump years, teaching workers new skills when their old jobs run out is a priority and will continue to be for the next four years, Fichuk added.
Randstad saw demand for information technology managers grow 35%, software testers 16% and software developers 5% from September to October. Inventory demand has also increased for what is seen as a good transition for displaced restaurant and bar workers.
The demand for assemblers is up 50% year over year and the call center and customer service positions have increased “sharply”.
The continued effort to fill vacancies can be seen in a number of sectors and increases as the holiday season begins.
“It’s always a busy time for us. This year makes no difference. In fact, our seasonal position numbers have increased year on year, which is a good sign,” said Amy Glaser, senior vice president at Adecco employment agency. “One of the other trends is the rise in e-commerce and roadside collection. We expect the back season will last through January. Usually, for seasonal workers, it ends sometime in mid-December. We’re definitely seeing an extension of that.” “”
Another encouraging sign that Glaser noted is the ability of companies to adapt to the virus.
“Employers have learned many lessons since the first attack. They really came up with better contingency plans,” said Glaser. “They recognize the fact that employees are quarantined or have to stay at home. They are actually building a buffer to cover any absences.”
A proactive approach to business can at least help alleviate the headaches the president will face over the next four years. The economy improved at a record pace in the third quarter, but the future pace will depend on a variety of factors.
A slightly positive sign: the number of permanent job losses fell by as much as 72,000 in October, but is still significantly higher than before the pandemic in February.
“When you see the permanent loss of jobs decreasing, it really signals that the job market has picked up some momentum,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist, State Street Global Advisors. “So far, most states have largely resisted the urge to do too much about the restrictions compared to Europe. If this dynamic changes, it is absolutely a risk to the labor market.”