Where did they all go? The people. The people who would be driving the trucks or working the ports or working in manufacturing. Aren't they enticed by $22-an-hour wages starting now, the prevailing wage I saw this weekend in the burb I go to for some peace and quiet?
This is the great quandary of the moment. We simply can't figure out where the workers have gone.
I ask everyone if they know where people are, the people who would normally seem to jump at the jobs. At first many observers, including yours truly, thought that when the outsized unemployment benefits run out, people would come back to work. I thought that because the ride-sharing companies indicated so.
But it's not translated into the wholesale return we expected.
Second, lots of younger people have a lot more money than they would normally at this stage in their career. I know this is not my generation's thinking, but it is entirely possible that they simply don't need to work yet. They are still in good shape and would rather trade their accounts or play video games or pick up a little extra cash as an Uber (UBER) driver.
Third, there is a great wealth transfer going on between the boomers and their children that amounts to a windfall, given how many parents invested in index funds for their kids. The younger people tend not to know how they may need much more than they are going to have if they don't do anything, but if they are living at home, there's not much to it and if they are living an apartment they may not even be paying rent.
Then there's immigration. For the longest time, there was a bizarre constituency of Democrats and Republicans being pro-immigration; the Democrats getting the immigrant votes and the Republicans getting the cheap labor to hold down costs. Since President Trump, that era is over. Immigrants are no longer here to hold down good jobs and care for their families. Many may disagree with me, but it is a huge problem.
Then there is COVID itself. If you have kids and they remain home from school, you need a parent to show them the ropes. That job has fallen mostly to women. Will they come back to the workforce? Or have they decided they like it very much at home? Do they feel safer? Or how about the over 65 crowd? They may have been working, but who wants to be a bus driver and get it from unvaccinated kids?
Then there is the Great Resignation theory. People used COVID to rethink their lives. Maybe they decided that trucking just wasn't for them. Maybe they don't want to work on an assembly line. Maybe they just want to chill.
It doesn't matter. What does matter is that to get these people off the sidelines, you need a combination of safety - perhaps herd immunity reached in November, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the author of "Uncontrolled Spread." Gottlieb told us last night that one way or another we could hit that level, either through vaccinations or illness.
I do know this, until we do, we will be worried about wage inflation and the need to cool the economy, so fewer people are needed because there is less business being done. It's not a way to restore the economy. It's just a way to explain what has to happen to get to the new normal of higher wages and people to fill the jobs needed to get this economy working right.