Just over 7 percent of the existing jobs in Vermont were vacant in August, according to a new report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Vermont had 23,000 job openings that month, according to the state Labor Department. That's the equivalent of 7.1 percent of all the state's positions, according to the BLS. The U.S. rate is 6.6 percent. But Vermont's doing better than Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which both have 7.4 percent of jobs open.
“Two years ago, I could put an ad on Indeed and have 50 responses, and now I can get five,” said Katrina Spahn, who hires for Hannaford supermarkets in New York and northern New England. People who do answer Spahn’s help wanted ads are seeking $15 to $18 per hour, she said — but she’s only authorized to offer $13.
Spahn's company, SOS, recently started offering health insurance to part-time workers. People she talks to at job fairs tell her they'd prefer remote work because they're worried about being infected with COVID-19.
The state's worker shortage, already a problem for employers before the pandemic, worsened after businesses closed in March 2020. About 25,000 of the people who left their jobs then haven't returned, according to the state labor department. There are openings in all industries, said labor department spokesperson Kyle Thweatt, who added that a ski resort job fair held Thursday showed “incredible need.”
The need has also been apparent for months at hospitality businesses, many of which have cut back their hours for lack of staff. Inn and restaurant owners reported this fall that they are working seven days a week because they lack staff.
And childcare operators say they’re not getting the applicants they need to fully staff up, creating headaches for parents who need their service in order to get back to work themselves.
In response to the pre-pandemic worker shortage, wages did start rising around 2019, and now there are hundreds of ads for entry-level positions offering as much as $30 per hour plus benefits. Middlebury College is advertising a $750 sign-on bonus for dining, public safety and facilities positions. There are 10,000 jobs listed on the state labor department's website.
Economists blame the worker shortage on a constellation of issues, including the high cost of housing and a benefits cliff that discourages workers from exceeding an income threshold that would cut eligibility for Medicaid, childcare subsidies and other programs.
Retirements are a factor in Vermont, which has one of the oldest populations in the nation. Labor department economist Mat Barewicz said, however, that the workforce has been losing people of all ages.
“All these groups are facing the same concerns about health and safety," he said.