With feds paralyzed, Georgia addresses workforce shortages
As is their modus operandi, a bipartisan Congress and the Biden Administration appear poised to sleepwalk through another crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic reoriented the economy, the United States was already facing serious workforce shortages. Now those deficiencies are even more acute in some ways, and projections warn of a future with dire workforce gaps.
To be fair, there aren’t many quick and easy fixes and the feds should have their hands full, but they don’t inspire much confidence either. Too often, they are busy picking petty fights and happy to procrastinate, rather than addressing some of America’s biggest problems. If kicking the proverbial can down the road was a viable policy strategy, then Congress would have a 100-percent approval rating.
With the feds evidently distracted, Georgia legislators are exploring options to ameliorate the rampant workforce issues, which are threatening to become an intergenerational problem. Georgia’s unemployment rate stands at around 3.3 percent, and the U.S. rate is about 3.8 percent. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out earlier this year, there are more job openings than unemployed Americans, and this may remain a recurring theme.
“Work experts have warned for years that the combination of baby boomer retirements, low birthrates, shifting immigration policies and changing worker preferences is leaving U.S. employers with too few workers to fill job openings,” writes the Wall Street Journal.
Between 1946 and 1964, some 76-million baby boomers were born, and many of them will soon leave the workforce, if they haven’t already. In fact, by the close of 2028, every member of the massive baby boomer generation will have reached the average age of retirement, which will take a large toll on the labor market.
What is compounding this issue is that Americans haven’t been replenishing their ranks. Birth rates have plummeted from around 23.7 births per 1,000 people in 1960 to only 11 per 1,000 in 2021, and this trend doesn’t look as though it will reverse its trajectory anytime soon. Birth rates have been declining in developed countries across the globe for some time.
State lawmakers have recognized these hazards. This legislative session alone, they created numerous study committees to explore possible solutions. Already this year, the Joint Dual Enrollment for Highly Skilled Talent at Younger Ages, Senate Truck Driver Shortages, Senate Expanding Georgia’s Workforce, and Senate Occupational Licensing study committees have begun meeting and discussing methods of addressing labor shortages.
While it may be the end of the year before they all release their legislative recommendations, I’d expect that they will endorse measures to reduce government barriers to employment and potentially incentivize specific out-of-state workers or largely untapped labor pools to join Georgia’s workforce. As experts have pointed out, there are only so many state and federal answers.
“Labor shortages can be eased by funneling more people into the labor force or making the current workforce more productive,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “That can be done through immigration; outsourcing more work overseas; tapping underutilized labor pools such as people with disabilities and the formerly incarcerated; and improving productivity through automation, training and refining business and production processes.” Employers may also begin to heavily rely on emerging artificial intelligence technology to fill open roles.
While there is a role for state legislators, including removing unnecessarily burdensome occupational licensing requirements, streamlining the licensing process and permitting those with criminal backgrounds to more easily obtain gainful employment, the federal government can act too. However, their solution needs to be targeted and restrained.
As Americans have witnessed time and again, big, top-down government approaches rarely are the answer and are sometimes worse than the disease. Famed social commentator Will Rogers even once quipped, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re actually paying for.” Nevertheless, there is a function here for the federal government to assume.
Rather than enacting hulking government programs and expending taxpayer money that we don’t have, Congress could modernize and relax some immigration laws to make it easier for professionals to legally move to the United States and accept open jobs.
Will the federal government take reasoned steps to reduce government-imposed barriers to filling workforce gaps? That remains to be seen. If history tells us anything, Congress may simply watch from the sidelines and then try to muddle through the crisis once it reaches its zenith. Thankfully, while the federal government seems powerless to address this issue, the Georgia General Assembly is trying to find creative ways to keep the Peach State’s economy thriving.