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Labor shortage in Utah may come to a slow end according to economists

(The Utah Department of Workforce Services building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – According to economists, the labor shortage is decreasing in Utah, but not as quickly as employers want. Companies across the state are still having trouble finding enough employees for their open positions. 

When the pandemic hit, it essentially halted the country’s economy all at once, however, analysts reported the labor shortage can’t end at the same speed as it began. Department of Workforce Services Chief Economist Mark Knold explained about 1.5 percent of Utah’s labor force stopped working when COVID-19 shut everything down.

Knold said, “That’s a good 35,0000 people who just, kind of, went off to the sidelines.”

Summer programs in parks and recreations centers across the Salt Lake Valley had to either cancel or reduce their classes due to a lack of workers. Knold said Snowbasin Resort had to cancel five of the events in their Blues, Brews and BBQ Concert Series because they couldn’t find enough staffers. 

Factors of labor shortage in Utah

So, why aren’t people returning to the labor force as quickly as they left?  Knold said there are four main reasons why. First, many workers are still worried about the spread of COVID-19, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

“There’s trepidation about coming back out into the COVID environment. They’re not ready to come out and work, especially in some of the manual service jobs where it’s face-to-face customer interaction.” Knold said.

Other workers don’t want to return because of changing workplace dynamics, as many people find their jobs have shifted to include different tasks. Also, in some cases, the workers aren’t physically where they used to be.

For instance, Knold said business owners in Logan are dealing with the side effects of remote learning.

“A big part of their labor force is college students, and they’re not there.  They won’t be there until the fall comes around,” he said.

However, Knold believes it’s possible enhanced unemployment benefits during the pandemic were too attractive to many people. The state stopped offering the enhanced benefits at the end of June, and Knold says that may have convinced many Utahns to get back to work.

He said, “The June jobs report showed that the labor force is responding to it. The job count kicked up. They are getting people to come back and respond. Again, it’s not in the quantity they want.”