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Next, we report on a contradiction - the unemployment rate is high in this country, but when businesses are hiring, as many are, it's hard to find workers. NPR's Kat Lonsdorf reports.
KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Bill Martin runs a manufacturing business in Peachtree City, Ga., right outside of Atlanta, and he's been on a hiring spree for months.
BILL MARTIN: I keep hearing about all the unemployed people, and I certainly can't find any of those folks.
LONSDORF: His company, M.A. Industries, makes plastics specifically used in the medical industry - pipettes for things like COVID tests and vaccine development. As you can probably imagine, they're busy.
MARTIN: Now we're expanding so fast, we just can't fill jobs.
LONSDORF: He's raised starting wages to up to $16 an hour, but still, this is the hardest it's ever been for him to find people to work.
MARTIN: We have been trying everything from putting signs on the front lawn to offering our employees, if you bring somebody in, we'll give you a thousand dollars if they stick - temp agencies, you know, recruiters, that type of thing.
LONSDORF: Martin is baffled by it. Job openings are at a five-month high, according to data released by the Department of Labor this month. On job finding sites like Indeed, postings for open positions have gone back to pre-pandemic numbers, but they're mostly in specific industries like construction, warehousing and delivery services. Julia Pollak is a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, a site that matches employers with potential employees. She says Bill Martin's situation in Georgia is exactly what they're seeing across the country.
JULIA POLLAK: There was sort of huge exuberance in our marketplace in January. The number of employers signing up and posting jobs sort of smashed all of our expectations. But the number of job-seekers coming back has been way, way below.
LONSDORF: There are around 10 million unemployed people in the U.S., but an increasing number are leaving the workforce altogether.
POLLAK: Many people are giving up and not even looking for work because there are still so many pandemic-related barriers to returning to work.
LONSDORF: Barriers like having kids at home with remote school, taking care of elderly parents or simply being worried about getting sick themselves. Pollak says a majority of seekers are looking for remote work, but only around 1 in 10 jobs listed check that box. There's just no way to work in manufacturing or construction or delivery from home. It's a conundrum we haven't really seen before.
POLLAK: In most recessions, you know, people can put a help-wanted sign in the window and see a line of candidates form around the block. And this is just a very, very, very different recession. A pandemic is a shock both to labor demand and to labor supply, and it's a really significant shock to labor supply.
LONSDORF: Pollak says a lot of workers are planning to wait it out until it's safe to work, which might mean employers like Bill Martin, whose company is making the crucial parts to get us vaccinated and out of this mess, won't find the help they're looking for anytime soon.
Kat Lonsdorf, NPR News.
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