What Does the Labor Shortage Mean for Inflation?

August 26, 2021 | Rodrigo De La Peña Alanis, Research Associate

Two-line chart showing unemployment and job openings. Chart subtitle: The number of job openings in the U.S. now exceeds the number of people unemployed. Chart description: Y-axis shows number in millions, from 0 to 25. X-axis shows date from December 2000 to July 2021, labeled in increments of nine months. Blue line shows number of people unemployed. Orange line shows number of job openings, As described in the accompanying text, in recent months, the number of job openings has exceeded the number of unemployed people. Chart source: Bloomberg.

Employers have faced a number of challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — most recently, a labor shortage. As of the end of June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a record high of more than 10 million job openings (including either newly created or unoccupied positions where an employer is taking specific actions to fill those positions), and as of the end of July, 8.7 million people looking for employment (people who are without work, currently available for work and seeking work), creating a disconnect in the labor market.

While this is not the first time job openings have exceeded the number of people looking for work, the imbalance is more meaningful now as companies attempt to fulfill pent-up demand caused by the pandemic with sharply less labor availability. To help combat this shortage, states have started to cut unemployment benefits, though these actions so far seem to have had minimal effect. Employers must now find a way to incentivize workers to apply to openings and accept offers. This is likely to put upward pressure not only on wages but on consumer prices. In order to protect profitability, companies will have to pass on the additional costs to the consumer, adding to inflationary pressures. While many signs point to higher inflation being transitory, the labor shortage — which could continue even after extra unemployment benefits expire, given demographic trends and a shift toward the gig economy — could be a longer-term issue. We will continue to monitor inflation, its underlying drivers, and the potential impacts to our clients’ portfolios carefully.

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The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

Rodrigo De La Peña Alanis
Research Associate

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