As more people become vaccinated, the more stores and restaurants are opening as well. But along with signs of reopening, many people are seeing help-wanted signs. Many employers struggling to fill positions that sat vacant through much of 2020 have blamed supplemental unemployment benefits for disincentivizing a return to work. But Liz Malatestinic, a senior lecturer at the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, says while those supplemental benefits might have contributed to a reluctance to return to work for some, the unemployment rate in some states, such as Indiana, has declined dramatically since the height of the pandemic, making it clear that factors other than the supplemental benefit are at play in the current talent crunch. So, why are so many employers having a hard time filling positions? Malatestinic says there are probably a number of factors. Employees who haven’t been working, particularly those who worked in public-facing positions, might still be concerned about safety. They worry about becoming ill or bringing illness back to their families, and those who are vaccinated might worry about interactions with co-workers or customers who remain unvaccinated. A lack of available childcare is also an issue, Malatestinic says. The U.S. Treasury Department estimates as many as 2 million women have not returned to work due to caretaking responsibilities. Many day care providers had to close or shut down in 2020, and those that have reopened are having a hard time recruiting workers themselves. For some industries like restaurants, Malatestinic says part of the problem might have to do with the very nature of the jobs they offer. Restaurant jobs usually involve irregular hours, last-minute schedule changes, and few or no employee benefits. Furloughs and layoffs last year gave many people time to reassess, and it appears that many have simply decided to pursue different jobs and careers, she says. But perhaps most important, where individuals choose to work often comes down to finances. Kyle Anderson, a clinical assistant professor of business economics says the minimum wage hasn’t been increased in years—but inflation has existed. Meaning, the real inflation-adjusted minimum wage has been declining over the last decade, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are fewer workers willing to work for that wage. To address the issue, Malatestinic says companies should invest in recruiting. Tried-and-true methods like employee referrals and encouraging “boomerangs,” or rehiring former workers, can be a great start. But for many employers, staffing shortages should spur reflection on factors that might make their jobs more attractive such as offering reliable scheduling, offering benefits such as health care and tuition reimbursement to loyal part-time employees and being flexible about working from home when it is feasible. Malatestinic says start with the basics by making it easy to apply and interview. It will take time before the job market returns to “normal,” and some segments might be permanently changed, she says. The challenge for employers is to understand that business as usual might not be on the horizon.
In other news, a first-of-its-kind large-scale study of vegetation growth in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 30 years has found that vegetation growth is becoming increasingly water-limited as global temperatures increase. The results of the study, conducted by IU researchers, are significant since vegetation is one of the biggest factors when it comes to controlling water and carbon cycling across Earth, which influences global temperatures. Without sufficient water, living things struggle to survive, including plants, says study author Lixin Wang. This multidisciplinary research began three years ago to determine vegetation water constraints across the Northern Hemisphere. Until now, it was largely unknown, despite the growing interest in predicting global and regional trends in vegetation growth in response to climate change. Wang says global temperature and the concentration of atmospheric CO2, or carbon dioxide, have been increasing. These changes are expected to cause increased atmospheric water demand, more frequent extreme hot days, and drought events. All these factors indicate that vegetation growth may have suffered more and more water stress under a warming climate. The researchers’ data analysis provided strong evidence of a widespread, significant increase in water vegetation constraint in the Northern Hemisphere over the period studied. Some regions, like the Great Plains in the United States, were comparatively worse than others. Until recently, elevated carbon in the atmosphere increased plant growth, which has the benefit of removing more carbon from the atmosphere. However, this study reveals a cause for concern. According to Wang, the warming climate is increasing water constraints, reversing the earlier trend of stronger vegetation carbon uptake. Wang says study results emphasize the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions.