Why is the jobs recovery so fast? One reason is the nature of the shock that hit the economy in 2020. History shows that financial crunches—tight monetary policy, banking disasters and so on—cause prolonged pain.
But economies usually recover speedily from “real” disruptions such as natural disasters, wars and, in this case, a pandemic.
In 2005 Louisiana’s unemployment rate soared after Hurricane Katrina but quickly fell back (though part of the adjustment came from people moving away).
After the second world war European labour markets rapidly absorbed soldiers returning from the front lines.
Government policy has also boosted jobs. In 2020 countries including Australia, Britain, France and Germany launched or expanded job-protection or furlough schemes.
At the peak over a fifth of European workers remained technically employed even as they twiddled their thumbs.
When lockdowns lifted, they could quickly return to their roles—rather than having to search and apply for work, which takes time and thus keeps unemployment elevated.
America launched a modest job-protection scheme, but its efforts were largely targeted at maintaining peoples’ incomes via stimulus cheques and topped-up unemployment benefits.
Stimulus schemes shored up families’ finances. Many households also reined in spending in 2020, allowing them to accumulate huge savings.
The stockpile is now being spent on everything from consumer goods to housing, raising demand for workers in areas such as online retail and property services (including an extra 200,000 estate agents in America).
With labour demand so strong, employers are having not only to increase the number of jobs but also to improve their quality.
Amazon exaggerated when, last year, it said it would try to be “Earth’s best employer”, but many other companies are promising similar things, whether by offering employees better in-office benefits (such as tastier cafeteria food) or better compensation packages (free college tuition).
In 2021 venture investors put more than $12bn into global hr tech startups, roughly 3.6 times the capital invested in them in 2020, according to PitchBook, a data provider.
Bad employers are having a tough time. The share of Americans worried about poor job security is near a historical low.
In Britain the share of full-time workers on a “zero-hours contract”, where there are no guaranteed hours, soared after the financial crisis but is now falling.
Many of the gig-economy firms that grew in the early 2010s by relying on an army of underemployed workers are struggling to find staff. Whether in London, Paris or San Francisco, hailing a ride is harder than it used to be.
The best measure of labour-market tightness is pay, which distils the relative bargaining power of workers and firms into a single number. In some places the situation is clearly getting out of hand.
Wheeler County, Nebraska, is a heavily agricultural place a long way from anywhere. In December unemployment fell to around 0.5%.
Jobs at a nearby Chipotle Mexican Grill pay $15-16.50 an hour, at least twice the federal minimum. Some firms claim to be raising wages by 30% or more.
附近一家Chipotle Mexican Grill餐廳的工作時薪為15-16.50美元，至少是聯邦規定最低工資的兩倍。一些公司聲稱要將工資提高30%甚至更多。
Some countries still look decidedly un-Nebraskan. Japanese wage growth is easing, not accelerating.
In December the “special wage”, which includes winter bonuses and typically makes up about half of total cash wages in that month, fell by 1% year on year.
German wage growth is doing nothing special. Canada’s is respectable but it is hard to make the case that things are out of control.