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State of Labor: Positive outlook for workers

The Great Resignation is waning, but a generational shift means worker demand is likely here to stay.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you're trying to understand the state of labor this Labor Day, experts tend to be positive, with a side of perspective.

"To some extent, what we've seen is the job market going back to normal," said Chris Farrell, senior economics editor for MPR News and Marketplace. "The Great Resignation appears to be over and people are coming back to the job market, but if you think about much of the 2000s — the way management always seemed to have a line of workers out the door — now management wants workers, they're still desperate to get workers and they want to keep their workers."

That backdrop has resulted in some big wins for organized labor in recent years, including recent worker-friendly deals for UPS employees and American Airlines pilots, but with unresolved strikes still unfolding in Hollywood and the threat of a strike by United Auto Workers looming over the auto industry, Farrell says there are still big tests to come.

"What I am describing are averages, and people are not averages, they are individuals," he said.

For Haja and Abubakar Jalloh, judging the current job market in Minnesota comes with a global perspective.

"We own our own IT business back in Africa," Haja Jalloh said. "It's in Sierra Leone and the job market there is terrible. Here it's way better." 

They know, because they both also each work part-time in Minnesota to support their business and family.

"There's a lot of jobs out there," she said. "The job market here has been great."

Farrell says the resiliency of labor has been one of the greatest aspects in the last year.

"We've had these forecasts, recession, recession, recession, and instead what we get is improvements in the job market," he said. "I think the definition of a good economy is when firms are looking for workers and that's the situation we're in."

Even an increase in the unemployment rate — to 3.8% in August — is a positive development, according to Farrell.

"Initially, you go, OK, that is bad news right? because this must mean there are more layoffs going on," he said. "But it turns out it's not. Layoffs are actually cooling off. What it was, was more and more people coming into the job market and looking for work."

But he says a big underlying factor gives him confidence that workers will continue to have leverage for years to come.

"The population is really not growing, having children is way down, the population is aging," Farrell said. "In 2034, for the first time in US history, there are going to be more 65 and older people, than 18 and under, so that's kind of in the backdrop. We have moved into an era where the labor market is probably just going to be tighter overall."

That means workers will be better positioned for better wages or other priorities.

"Every job I work for, I have to have flexibility," Haja Jalloh said. "That's what I prioritize, that's why I took this job." 

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