Gov. Scott: Workforce shortage threatens pandemic recovery

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 10:02 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 5:46 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont labor officials Tuesday said there are upwards of 26,000 jobs openings on any given day that need to be filled to mend the economy from the pandemic.

Officials presented the labor data at a massive job fair in Essex Junction where 150 employers set up booths to fill some of those positions.

While COVID no longer poses the threat it once did, new federal data shows an uphill battle to reverse the state’s demographic crisis. “Many people used the pandemic to find a new career path or find a new career path altogether,” said Vt. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington.

He says there are currently only about 3,000 people collecting state unemployment. So where did all of the workers go and how are they getting by? In the thick of the pandemic, the state reached out to households, and about half of those who left the workforce opted for retirement.

“From an economic standpoint, that’s a good indication that some people are near the end of their working life. They have had a long, successful career and are looking to transition to other opportunities,” said Mat Barewicz, a state labor economist.

He says state data trends confirm the labor challenges. Back in 2000, there were 195,000 Vermonters aged 35 to 54 and 77,000 Vermonters over 65. Flash forward 20 years and there are now 151,000 Vermonters ages 35 to 54 and 120,000 Vermonters over 65. And the state has not backfilled that working population. “It’s pretty simple math, in some respects,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

And unlike previous economic downturns like in 2009, the value of homes and other assets are still hot, giving people of retirement age the economic freedom to stay out of the workforce. At the same time, fewer young people are in the labor force. Twenty years ago, about 60% of young workers aged 16 to 19 worked jobs. Today, it’s just below 40%. “In addition to having fewer students, the incidence of those students participating in the labor force is less as well,” Barewicz said.

With a flood of federal relief cash, the governor wants to grow the workforce from the outside in, including more incentives for people to move to Vermont, investments in workforce training, and streamlining new home construction. “With every policy we consider, we need to ask ourselves, will this help or hurt our workforce crisis?” Scott said.

The state’s $7 billion budget contains big investments in housing, water and sewer, and broadband -- the kinds of investments the governor says are needed to attract more young people to the state and reverse demographic trends.

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