Jun 6, 2022 - Podcasts

The new American labor market

Almost all the jobs that were lost at the beginning of the pandemic are back. The question now is what kind of work are we talking about? Two years into the pandemic, we’re seeing more warehouse jobs and health store employees - but fewer waiters and public school teachers.

  • Plus, a growing divide among the gun lobby.
  • And - a reminder to pack your patience this summer for travel.

Guests: Axios' Courtenay Brown and Lachlan Markay.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, June 6th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the gun lobby’s growing divide. Plus, don’t forget to pack your patience when traveling this summer.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: America’s new labor market.

Almost all of the jobs that were lost at the beginning of the pandemic are back. But what kind of work are we talking about? Two years into the pandemic, we're seeing more warehouse jobs and health store employees and fewer waiters and public school teachers. Axios’ Courtenay Brown has been reporting out what this new U.S. labor market looks like. Hey Courtenay.


NIALA: We had the latest job numbers out on Friday, which told us that 96% of the jobs lost before the pandemic are back. What else did this report tell you about solidifying trends in our labor money?

COURTENAY: So there's a really striking gap between the public sector jobs that have been recovered and the private sector jobs that have been recovered. Looking under the hood a little bit - the private sector has recovered 99% of all the jobs it lost when the pandemic hit, but the public sector has regained just 58% of the jobs that it lost when the pandemic hit. So that just shows you, kind of this gaping hole we still have in the labor market when it comes to workers in the public sector, teachers and, and the like, you know, just have not recovered the way that the private sector has.

NIALA: And within the private sector, what are we seeing about what industries have recovered faster?

COURTENAY: Well, it's really interesting because it kind of reflects changed behavior that has kind of become the norm during the pandemic. Never before have transportation and warehouse workers made up a bigger share of the labor force than they do now. And that makes sense, right? I mean, how much did you order online when the pandemic hit? A lot more, I presume. And so these sectors are having to hire up to keep up with that kind of demand. On the flip side, the leisure and hospitality sector has really, really lagged behind in terms of its recovery. It has over 1 million fewer workers now than it did before the pandemic hit.

NIALA: Courtenay, how much of this is about how much what workers want also changing because of the pandemic?

COURTENAY: Yeah, I think that we're really seeing workers trade up for different kinds of jobs to better reflect, you know, the quality of life that they want and, and higher pay. There are workers who are deciding, you know, I want more flexibility to work from home. So they’re opting to work in sectors where that can be a reality. And then there are some sectors where wages are really, really rising and so they can - You know, maybe they were a teacher before the pandemic and during the pandemic and decided, well, I can do something else for way better pay and way less stress. And those are the kinds of jobs that they're opting for.

NIALA: Courtenay Brown is an economics reporter for Axios. Thanks Courtenay.

COURTENAY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with how a split over red flag laws signals a shift in the gun lobby.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today - I’m Niala Boodhoo.

There were seven separate mass shootings over the weekend that killed at least eleven people and injured 54 others. So far this year, we've had 246 mass shootings in this country. That's defined by the Gun Violence Archive as attacks where at least four people are killed or injured..

The violence across America has led to even more urgent conversations around federal gun control legislation. But as lawmakers struggle to find common ground, powerful gun lobbies representing manufacturers and individual gun owners are growing more divided.

Axios’ Lachlan Markay has been reporting on how these groups are influencing legislation. Hey Lachlan.

LACHLAN MARKAY: Hey, how are you doing?

NIALA: Lachlan, when we say the gun lobby, I think everyone thinks we're talking just about the National Rifle Association.

LACHLAN: Yeah, I mean, they remain the foremost gun rights lobbying organization in the country, and it's not particularly close, you know, both in terms of reputation, in terms of the size of their budgets, But it's also in a very precarious position right now. It's facing a lot of legal battles. There's also a lot of really bitter internal feuding and you're seeing some groups try to sort of step up into the fold. Some of them look to be taking a bit of a softer position and more open to, you know, ongoing negotiations in Congress regarding potential new restrictions on guns.

NIALA: And one of these other groups is the National Sports Shooting Foundation. How are they becoming a rising force when it comes to the gun lobby?

LACHLAN: The major distinction between NRA and NSSF is the NRA represents individual gun owners. Those are its members and it has millions of them that makes it very potent politically. NSSF is the trade association representing the industry. So they represent firearms and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, retailers, basically up and down the entire industry associated with firearms in the United States. And that changes the incentives a little bit when it comes to policy and we're seeing that bear out a little bit in the ongoing debate.

NIALA: Right, and so we're seeing this with red flag laws, where does the NRA stand versus the National Sports Shooting Foundation when it comes to these kinds of policy changes?

LACHLAN: So these are laws that - they're already in place in a number of states - that allow a judge or the government in some form to step in and say, this person is a significant and immediate threat to themselves or to others. And therefore, they are no longer allowed to own firearms. The NRA has come out and said totally off the table. We will not support it. But you've, you have seen the NSSF signal they could support a red flag law, depending on the specifics of how it's structured. Now, they ave flatly opposed other measures that have been discussed that would be a little stricter, things like universal background check legislation or a federal assault weapons ban, but red flag laws are one area where you're potentially seeing some segments of the gun rights movement, the gun rights lobby say, this is potentially something we could get on board with.

NIALA: So then how significant to your mind - It sounds like it's not even fair to describe it as a divide, but how significant is it that the American gun lobby may not be completely united at this time?

LACHLAN: Well, I think it is significant and I think there is a divide that goes a bit deeper than just this one issue. Because the constituencies that the NRA and the NSSF represent are different, the political incentives for those organizations are different. And the NSSF at its core is a business group and so the break that we've identified here, I think is a symptom of a larger trend in corporate America of becoming much more highly attuned to political, cultural, social public pressure on these really divisive issues.

We've seen it on things like racial justice, voting rights, education, corporate government relations departments are extremely sensitive to anything that's going to essentially alienate an entire side of the political divide. I think that's bearing out not just on those other issues I mentioned, but also on the gun issue hence NSSF taking a bit of a softer line on this.

NIALA: Lachlan Markay covers money and influence in politics for Axios. Thanks, Lachlan.

LACHLAN: Thank you.

NIALA: One last thing before we go today - thanks to Erica Pandey for filling in for me while I took a few days off last week. I was in Miami - and ended up traveling back to DC during the first named storm of this hurricane season - Tropical Storm Alex. I have flown in and out of the Miami International Airport dozens of times - and I have never seen a security line as long as I did on Saturday, as Alex dumped more than a foot of rainfall on some parts of South Florida.

There were more than 7,000 flights canceled last weekend over the Memorial Day holiday also because of bad weather and labor shortages with the airlines.

I fly alot. My advice is, it turns out, the same as my colleague Joann Muller’s - book direct flights whenever possible, enroll in programs like TSA PreCheck to avoid security lines - and try not to take out your travel frustrations on the people around you.

We’ll put a link to Joann’s story in our show notes.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! Text me your tips for summer travel - or other feedback to (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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