Where Have All The Workers Gone?
Published: March 13th, 2023
By: Kelli Miller

Where have all the workers gone? An empty office of cubicles is the new normal. Retirement, self-emploment and remote work has changed the office work environment. Millions of job openings are available but where are the workers to fill the positions? (Photo by Sarah Genter)

NORWICH — Workforce participation remains below pre-pandemic levels. There are about three million fewer Americans working today than compared to February 2020. Where have all the workers gone?

Park Place Sports Bar and Grill employee Louise Trett said, “Since COVID, we’ve noticed some employees are not coming back to work. They might have individual situations, maybe health problems that are keeping them home."

“The entire labor force has changed. Integrity is lost. And if children aren't raised to take pride in what they do, well, it shows. Employees have been coddled and no one is correcting the situation. People want to be given everything and that can’t last. The culture has changed and unless we make changes in our elected officials, nothing will happen.

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“We’re fortunate here at Park Place. We have some very nice people working here. We’re happy about that. We try and give everyone a good chance. That’s all we can do,” Trett said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce statistics showed since the pandemic, workers have gone home and decided to stay home. Boosted unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, and child tax credits have padded finances of some previously employed.

Early retirement and self-employment also add to the missing workers. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey shows 23 percent of women decided not to return to the workforce. Daycare closures and other sufficient household income helped support the decision.

Jesse Westcott, a cook at a number of restaurants in Norwich, said, “I believe that the reason no one stays at the job is because of the government programs that make hand outs easy. That makes life easier for those that don’t want to work. I believe a month to month recertification for SNAP benefits and other benefits is what is needed to get people back in the work field."

“Some people are hired and show up one day but don't come back the next. They don't even come back for their paycheck. Others say they have the skills but once they start work, it's obvious they don't,” he added.

According to the Supplemental National Assistance Program (SNAP), since March 2020, Congress temporarily increased SNAP benefits because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Supplemental EA SNAP benefits were issued to households in addition to their normal monthly SNAP benefit amount. As a result, households received more SNAP benefits each month than they would have normally been eligible for based on their income and expenses.

Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 in December 2022 that ended the supplemental EA benefits. February 2023 was the last month that supplemental EA benefits were issued, and SNAP benefits returned to normal amounts in March of this year. All households should have received a letter by mail or text message informing them of the end of the supplemental benefits.

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“My message to the public is it's time to return back to work, we all need to take responsibility and government hand outs need to stop,” Westcott said.

However some signs of relief could be on the way.

NBT Bank Senior Vice President, Chief Investment and Economics Officer Kenneth J. Entenmann speaking at a Commerce Chenango economic forum earlier this month said as of December 2022 the market was at record lows for unemployment, at about 3.5 percent. The figures only count active job seekers.

In recent months he said there were signs the labor market was loosening up. He said more and more businesses were restoring their normal operations but impacts from lack of employees persisted.

“So there is a little bit of optimism that perhaps people were starting to re-enter the workforce,” said Entenmann.

January saw very strong employment figures, with estimates predicting 250,000 new jobs but instead about double that figure was reported, about 517,000.

Local companies looking to hire include: Byrne Dairy, Chobani, Raymond Corporation, Paradise Pool and Spa Services, Pizza Hut, Lowe's, and more.