By Douglas Guth for Freshwater Cleveland
Long checkout lines. Short-staffed hospitals. Slow service at your favorite restaurant.
Where have all the workers gone?
The reasons are varied—ranging from a lack of child care to forced, often early, retirement, to a desire for the flexibility that freelance work brings.
Northeast Ohio has not been untouched by these trends, according to a 2022 study led by The Fund for Our Economic Future, Team NEO, and a host of other partners.
Called “Where are the Workers?,” the study found that more than 408,000 people in Northeast Ohio quit their jobs in 2021 and more than 437,000 started contract or freelance work during the pandemic.
The local trend mirrored the national trend. In 2021, more than 47 million people quit their jobs as early retirements, stimulus checks, and the health impacts of COVID-19 became nightly news sound bites.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the quit rate rose from 1.6% in April 2020 to 3% percent in November 2021, a gain of 1.4 percentage points—contributing to the “Great Resignation.”
The shift in the local labor market was a long time coming and likely permanent, says Fund president Bethia Burke. She says COVID-19 fundamentally altered long-standing ideals of work while transforming the public’s relationship with career success.
Examples include employees working from home or part-time, returning to school or enrolling in job training programs, or quitting jobs to take gig work.
Burke says employers have had to respond to these changing attitudes to keep and attract employees. For organizations in Northeast Ohio and beyond, Burke says this means becoming an “employer of choice” in vital areas such as nimble business practices and strong company culture.
“Flexibility is a baseline factor of being competitive for talent,” she explains. “Thinking about this up front will help employers in the long-term.”