Oct 8, 2021 - Economy & Business

Surprise labor shortage hits schools

Masked teachers and students in a NYC school.
Masked teachers and students in a NYC school. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

School is back, but the workers — teachers, bus drivers and more — are not.

Why it matters: The education hiring slowdown (which helps explain Friday morning’s weak jobs report) is partially a byproduct of the biggest hurdles to labor market recovery.

  • Education workers tend to be women, who have left the workforce in droves. They are also older, so they may be more concerned about contracting COVID-19.

By the numbers: Local government school districts lost 144,000 jobs last month and another 17,000 at the state level.

  • Private education jobs fell by 19,000.

One caveat: A data quirk makes the hiring drop-off more dramatic.

  • The agency in charge of the jobs report makes adjustments to smooth out seasonal volatility, which education is prone to.
  • But hiring in the sector was weaker than it usually is in prime back-to-school season. That “wreaked havoc” on the seasonal formula, and that overstates the decline, RSM chief economist Joe Brusuelas tells Axios.

Anecdotes across the country show there aren’t enough of the people who make local school systems work.

  • In Philadelphia, the bus driver shortage is so bad that a school district is paying some families up to $300 to drive their kids.
  • In Minneapolis, one district canceled 12 bus routes. It can't find fill-ins when regular drivers are out.
  • In Charlotte, a school system is offering bonuses to entice special education teachers and other tradespeople.

What to watch: “If kids are back at school and there are far fewer staff, the quality of education is suffering,” ZipRecruiter chief economist Julia Pollak tells Axios.

Axios Local's Taylor Allen, Torey Van Oot and Katie Peralta Soloff contributed reporting.

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