MUNCIE, Ind. – Following more than a year of the oddest jobs market in decades, the best East Central Indiana might hope for in 2022 is something a little closer to normal.
Businesses, jobs and lives disrupted by the COVID pandemic were further disrupted in 2021 by what’s been called “The Great Resignation.” The wide-scale departure of workers from certain types of jobs – for the most part low-wage jobs like those in restaurants – have led businesses in Muncie and Richmond and across East Central Indiana to dramatically shift their way of doing business.
Some employers have offered better pay rates and many fly banners that promise improved hourly pay, daily payouts and – in the case of Starbucks – free Spotify Premium. Some have cut hours of operation or closed dining rooms or made other changes to navigate the new normal.
The best we might hope for is “closer to normal,” according to the 2022 economic outlook from Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist with the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research. In a December forecast, Hicks cited that possibility.
The structural changes to the economy are great, Hicks said: more workers withholding labor, more workers seeing employment through remote work and a preference for jobs offering a lower risk of unemployment.
At the same time, employers are increasingly seeking skilled workers. The CBER report noted that job listings seeking college graduates have increased by 7%, while job listings for high school graduates have declined by 8%.
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“There are about five times as many job openings for college grads than there are for high school graduates nationwide,” according to the CBER report. Levels of employment and labor force well below pre-pandemic levels.
Hicks has previously noted and repeats in this CBER report that government-imposed shutdowns did not inflict pain on restaurants and related industries because spending had dropped considerably a week before the spring stay-at-home order from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.
“Economic distress was a consequence of the disease, rather than the government response to the disease,” CBER noted. The 25 states with the highest vaccination rates saw employment growth through summer 2021 three times the rate of growth in the 25 states with low vaccination rates. Twenty-six states that ended pandemic unemployment insurance early in response to complaints of labor shortages saw their workforce growth lag by more than 50 percent behind the 24 states that did not.
But when will workers return? Hicks said there’s a big continuing note of uncertainty; this is the first post-war recession in which the labor force had not fully recovered within eight months.
Hicks’ report notes that East Central Indiana continues to be plagued with population loss. It’s a decline that began in the 1950s and continues to this day.
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The increase in remote working could continue to have an impact on East Central Indiana, the CBER report said. This could boost remote workers from 150,000 to 500,000. The city of Muncie recently initiated an effort to attract 45 more remote workers by 2023 by offering a $5,000 stipend. The city’s effort is part of a state program with $500,000 in funding.
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