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Utah Continues Struggle To Find Its Missing Labor Force

That Sandwich Place's Team
That Sandwich Place

Utah’s unemployment rate is at 2.8%, the same as before the pandemic started. Despite the low rate, employers are struggling to fill vacant positions, especially in areas like restaurants and retail. 
Mark Knold,  chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed over 60,000 households each month and found four probable causes for the labor shortage.
“The first one is fearful workers,” Knold said. “Nearly 4 million people in this survey say that they are not looking for work because of the pandemic. They don't want to go out yet and be out in the public and be out in the working community.”
Knold explained it can take time for people who have lost a job to switch industries, and increased unemployment benefits could also be factors. Knold said universities offering online classes could be a factor as well.
“Parts of your normal labor supply aren't quite there. As in the students aren't there in Utah State University right now, to a large degree because of the tele-teaching. And so you have an enormous part of your labor force, that provides and supplies labor to the industries that are probably doing the most searching for labor right now, is not there and on campus,” he said.
Courtney Larsen, owner of That Sandwich Place in Logan, said it’s been a struggle to find employees, to train them and to keep regular store hours. 
“We closed down last week because we couldn’t keep on it. There’s two of us that know all of the positions and about ten people that don’t and it just got a little too overwhelming. We’ve been training, we’re training today. Hopefully we’ll be fully open next week, at least Wednesday through Saturday, and we’ll keep trying to claw our way back to a full schedule,” Larsen said.
Knold commented this isn’t the first time we have seen a missing labor force and suggested we need to give the industry more recovery time.
“Back in the Great Recession, the construction industry was the first one to go into the great recession. It was hit very hard, it was down and out for five years, woke up overnight, and immediately couldn't find workers. They eventually got what they needed. And it got itself back on the right footing. But it takes time for the labor community to readjust,” Knold said.