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Opinion: Why is there such a workforce shortage if unemployment is low?
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Opinion: Why is there such a workforce shortage if unemployment is low?

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US businesses struggle to fill jobs even as hiring picks up

A man walks into 5th Avenue Deli and Grill, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Hiring in the United States picked up in May yet was slowed again by the struggles of many companies to find enough workers to keep up with the economy's swift recovery from the pandemic recession. U.S. employers added 559,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday, an improvement from April's sluggish increase of 278,000.

The numbers from the Alabama Department of Labor Current Civilian Labor Force for March suggest our unemployment rate was at 3.8%, while the U.S. at large was at 6%, so we’re trending better than the national average. Looking back to February—after numbers have been calibrated further—Alabama’s revised unemployment rate was actually closer to 2.6% and the U.S. closer to 3.5%.

The availability of skilled, dependable labor is the No. 1 issue in economic development. This issue is not necessarily a new one, but it’s been brought to the forefront more visibly given the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Alabama needs to continually cultivate skilled workers and attract talent from other places if we want to encourage our existing employers to expand and to increase our attractiveness to employers looking to locate business operations in Alabama.

Our leaders in the Department of Commerce, K-12 and the community college system have done excellent work in this space, but we still need more folks willing to get training and build their careers in Alabama.

With Alabama’s unemployment rate under 4%, those who are looking for jobs may have plenty of employment opportunities to explore depending on where they are and the skills and experience they possess.

Matt Ulmer is Community Workforce, Leadership & Economic Development specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

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