“Opportunities are everywhere”: US workers demand a better deal


To become a real estate appraiser in the US it typically takes dozens of hours of specialized training. But Roland Statulevicius managed to get a job in February with just a certificate from an online course.

Statulevicius, 58, was fired from his previous job at a car dealership near Chicago during the pandemic, and his new role is in pay and prospects. “Now there are opportunities everywhere,” he said.

He is one of the actors in a profound change in the US labor market, in which American employers have always been able to dictate conditions to their employees.

But now companies are desperately looking for employees as persistent fears of the pandemic, a lack of childcare and a temporary hike in unemployment benefits have kept many workers on the sidelines. This means that job seekers have greater bargaining power with potential employers than they have for decades.

“There have been few points in history where the workforce had the upper hand in negotiating with their employers, and that’s why the distribution of wealth has been so skewed over the past three or four decades,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“Before the financial crisis, there was a brief moment when wage growth picked up, and there was a moment around 2000 that was nailed by the stock market crash and then you go back to the 1960s,” added Zandi .

Workers use their newfound leverage to demand higher salaries and encourage employers to hire and train them even when they lack the experience.

The proportion of employers willing to offer employees vocational training was 1.7 percent last month, according to the manufacturer of work analysis software Burning Glass. That may not sound like much, but it’s a 49 percent increase from the same month of 2019. Less than one percent of utility engineer vacancies in 2019 reported training inexperienced workers, Burning Glass found. Now almost 15 percent are doing it.

Among them is Statulevicius’ new employer, Chicago-based PahRoo Appraisal & Consultancy, who has agreed to guide him through the additional education he needs to become a licensed appraiser.

Michael Hobbs, founder of PahRoo Appraisal & Consultancy, above, sent Roland Statulevicius through additional training as a licensed appraiser

PahRoo owner Michael Hobbs said he had never hired anyone with less than five years of real estate experience until Statulevicius. But he was forced to drop this requirement for a “fire hose” from customer inquiries and an empty pool of candidates because of the Covid crisis.

“I used to have a pretty good idea of ​​the world and who we were going to hire,” Hobbs said. “Fast forward to today, it’s completely different. I don’t have any preconceptions. “

Wages are also rising. New York Fed data shows that the average salary employers must offer to attract a new worker into the job market, known as “reservation wages,” rose nearly $ 10,000 to $ 71,403 over the past year is.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Americans are leaving their jobs in record numbers, peaking at 4 million in April, in part because they see better opportunities elsewhere.

“There’s no question that a lot of people say, ‘I’m sick of working for poverty wages,'” said Donald Taylor, president of the Unite Here hotel union.

American employees tend to have less power over their work arrangements than their counterparts in other wealthy countries. A 2018 study by the OECD found that the US is one of only two of its 38 member states that does not require employers to give notice in advance if someone is laid off or laid off.

Line graph of those with the lowest average wage willing to take on a new job (in thousands of US dollars), showing that the

US labor law also provides almost no penalties for employers who interfere in workers’ efforts to organize unions, blaming the OECD for the relatively small number of workers who can negotiate better wages and working conditions. The US also offers less financial support to the unemployed than any other country studied in the study, reducing the choice of workers when looking for work.

However, the Covid crisis has kept millions of Americans out of the job market and given those who remain a new influence on employers. Some economists say the change may have started in the years leading up to the pandemic, when record-breaking unemployment companies were forced to sweeten their offerings to attract workers.

For workers like Statulevicius, the new-found bargaining power means they can gain a foothold in newer, higher-paying industries. “Without the pandemic, I might never have taken this step,” he said. “Aside from earnings, it is good for you to always have an opportunity to learn and keep your brain fresh.”

For others, it means asking for better terms from their current employers.

“This return to physical office debate will test workers’ bargaining power and employer response,” said Nick Bunker, chief economist for Indeed’s job website.

Skyler Reeves, an Arizona restaurant owner, changed the way he runs his business to keep staff, such as scrapping menu items that were frustrating to prepare. New equipment was purchased to make strenuous jobs like washing dishes easier, while a work schedule was put in place so no worker was stuck scrubbing for too long.

Skyler Reeves

Skyler Reeves: “People used to fight for these jobs. Now we’re taking everyone who comes in ‘© Vivili Hospitality Group

“People used to fight for these jobs,” Reeves said. “Now we’re going to take anyone who comes in.”

The increases were greatest among the low-skilled and low-wage workers. Their wages have risen 3.7 percent in the past two months, while the wages of their college-educated colleagues have increased 3.3 percent. The gap between the two is the largest the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has ever recorded. The workers who win the most are disproportionately women and people of color.

“The workers who receive the most benefits are the ones who have been hurt the most by the pandemic,” Bunker said. “It’s a lot of catching-up growth.”

But the shift isn’t just limited to low-wage jobs. Last week, executives of major US banks said they would pay more because of a war for talent.

Some economists believe that all of the ground workers recruited in recent months could be ceded to employers if the phasing out of federal expanded unemployment benefits and the reopening of schools is expected to bring a flood of workers back into the labor market.

But the Congressional Budget Office predicts that long-term growth in the American workforce will slow. Current immigration rates are too low to keep the workforce as expansive as employers are used to. According to Zandi from Moody’s Analytics, some competition could therefore persist.

President Joe Biden urges cementing workers ‘progress and signed an executive order last week designed to restrict employers’ ability to force workers to sign non-compete agreements that prevent them from doing their current jobs for better ones in the same field leave. But union leaders want more and are urging Congress to pass a law called the PRO Act that would strengthen bargaining rights.

Conservatives and business leaders warn that increasing labor bargaining power could increase costs for companies still recovering from the pandemic and ultimately lead to slower economic growth. “Forcing companies to offer benefits when they’re not ready could cost jobs,” said Kelsey Bolar, senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. “It is better to maintain a tight labor market than to dictate it.”

However, labor activists and some economists say that change is long overdue for workers. “Work has been hot on the heels for decades,” said Zandi, “and now it’s time in the sun”.

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