Even Vermonters will tell you the foliage has been great this year. The colors have been vibrant, and the leaves have been really hanging on (at least until that storm blew through Thursday night).
There have been tour buses criss-crossing the state; the Waterbury-Stowe exit has been backed up on the interstate; you can’t walk down the street without stepping into somebody’s photograph.
It’s peak. That’s good news as we push into the fourth quarter of the year. It’s a strong autumn season.
Except that for some businesses — like restaurants and hotels — this is not feeling much like a time to celebrate. It’s feeling more like a harbinger of a tough winter.
The staffing shortage is jeopardizing many businesses that currently rely on the service industry to keep the steady flow of people going along effortlessly and happily. But some restaurants have scaled back their hours; and a few were even closed last weekend — one of the busiest times of the year. Hotels also are reporting they simply are not filling all of their rooms, because they do not have the staff to turn them over or clean them. There are Help Wanted signs everywhere.
As we reported on these pages, the Vermont Department of Labor said the statewide unemployment rate for August was around 2.1%. That was the same as July. The September results will not be released until next week.
“With the changing of the seasons on the horizon, Vermont’s economy is recording historically low levels of unemployment insurance claims based on available data going back to 1982. Low availability of labor combined with a high number of job openings is making it difficult for Vermont to fully recover from the latest economic downturn,” Commissioner Michael Harrington noted when the August results were released. He said the state offered 14 in-person job fairs from April through August that attracted some 7,600 individuals and more than 620 employers. And yet, through the summer, the numbers were more or less the same.
The U.S. jobless rate for August was 3.7%, so we are better than the national average. But the situation is not good.
According to the Pew Research Center, which recently published results of a survey it did that focused on The Great Resignation — the nation’s “quit rate” that reached a 20-year high last November.
In an article in Monthly Labor Review titled “The Great Resignation in Perspective,” Maury Gittleman, a research economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, offers some of the why: “One likely reason for (The Great Resignation) is labor market tightness, and there are many possible explanations for why and how the labor market rebounded after the pandemic-induced recession in the first half of 2020. These explanations focus on developments such as the end of lockdowns, the stimulus coming from increased generosity of and enhanced eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, relief payments to individuals, and increases in food assistance. Other developments that may have caused individuals to leave their jobs (and perhaps the labor force) include the desire of workers to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19, as well as challenges in providing childcare as a result of pandemic-related closures of childcare centers and the widespread use of remote schooling.”
According to the Pew survey, majorities of workers who quit a job in 2021 said low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) were reasons why they quit. At least a third say each of these were major reasons why they left.
Roughly half of those surveyed said child care issues were a reason they quit a job (48% among those with a child younger than 18 in the household). About 45% of those surveyed said they did not receive good benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off.
Meanwhile, the survey found, about four in 10 adults who quit a job last year (39%) say they were working too many hours, while three in 10 cited working too few hours. About a third (35%) cited wanting to relocate to a different area, while relatively few (18%) cite their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a reason.
Some 53% of employed adults who quit a job in 2021 said they have changed their field of work or occupation at some point in the past year (sometimes multiple times). Workers younger than age 30 and those without a postgraduate degree are especially likely to say they have made this type of change.
According to the survey, adults younger than 30 are far more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year: 37% of young adults say they did this, compared with 17% of those ages 30-49, 9% of those ages 50-64 and 5% of those ages 65 and older.
Experiences also vary by income, education, race and ethnicity, the survey found. About a quarter of adults with lower incomes (24%) say they quit a job in 2021, compared with 18% of middle-income adults and 11% of those with upper incomes.
All of it — if businesses remain closed or with reduced hours — leads to a continued slowing of the economy. Whether it’s attitude, policy or changes in how we work, we need to start coming up with answers. Vermont depends on tourism all four seasons to keep its coffers full. It has to work effortlessly and happily. Otherwise, it could seize.