Wed, February 21, 2024

Simon Says: Where have all the cowboys (and other workers) gone?

Restaurants ask for our patience because of a lack of staff. Delivery times have lengthened (remember when Amazon prime was 2 days?). The pre-pandemic peak in employment in the Augusta MSA was 246,300 and currently stands at 238,400, a loss of 7,900 jobs. In percentage terms, the loss is similar to the national data.

Almost all the difference in the jobs numbers is accounted for by a smaller labor force. In Augusta, the labor force (people in work or looking for work) decreased by 3,567 to 265,381 in September. The pre-pandemic peak was 273,204 in February 2020 so 7823 fewer people are in the labor force. The numbers jump around a lot, for example in June there are many school leavers that are added to the labor force (which was a record 273,059). If we take account of these known seasonal variations the overall trend in the labor force is up, although still a little below pre-pandemic levels (see chart below).

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One factor that may be impacting our labor force locally is wages. While nationally, average hourly earnings have increased about a dollar over the last year, hourly wages in the Augusta MSA have actually decreased by about a dollar (see chart below). Given inflation running at 5%, real wages have fallen even further than nominal wages. Firms may attract workers into the labor force, from the unemployment ranks, or from other geographies, by offering higher wages.

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