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Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

There are around 10 million unemployed Americans and over 9 million open positions. But most people aren't urgently seeking out those jobs.

The big picture: For the first time in decades, workers have the power to be choosy.

By the numbers: Only about 10% of job seekers say they're actively and urgently looking for work, according to a new survey from the jobs site Indeed. Around 45% are passively looking for jobs, and another 30% plan to get a job in the near future but aren't looking at all right now.

What's happening: Most of the open jobs are in low-wage areas like the service industry, which is bouncing back after the pandemic but struggling to find workers.

  • "These jobs are not very good," says Steven Fazzari, an economist at the Washington University in St. Louis. "They’re hard work, and they don’t pay very well."
  • For low-wage workers, pandemic-era expanded unemployment insurance has provided some temporary bargaining power. "They might be able to pay the rent or pay the utility bill without that job" and hold out for better pay or benefits, Fazzari says.

Workers without college degrees — who also tend to be in lower-wage jobs — cite several different reasons for delaying the job search, per Indeed's data.

  • Around 25% are afraid of COVID-19 and are waiting for vaccination rates to climb before getting back to work.
  • More than 20% say they have a financial cushion and around 12% say their unemployment insurance is the reason they're not rushing to get a job.
  • Childcare is also a major factor. 20% of lower-wage workers are staying home due to care responsibilities.

What to watch: This moment could be a turning point for American workers. Demand for labor is sky high, so lots of firms are offering higher wages or perks to attract talent.

But, but, but: While workers may have the edge right now, "I'm really skeptical that what we're seeing is the start of a new era of worker bargaining power," Indeed economist Nick Bunker says.

  • The wage hikes and benefits could start to disappear in the fall as many of the circumstances allowing or pushing lower-wage workers to delay the job hunt change, he says.
  • Many states have already ended pandemic unemployment insurance, and others will do so in the coming months. An analysis from the firm Jeffries reported by the Wall Street Journal shows that states that have ended UI have lower rates of unemployment than those that have not.
  • And schools are set to fully reopen, sending parents back to work.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 5, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on workforce development

On Tuesday, October 5, Axios media reporter Sara Fischer, publisher Nick Johnston and executive editor Aja Whitaker-Moore discussed the value of workforce development in a rapidly changing job landscape, featuring Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Alma Adams and Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell

Sen. Mark Warner underscored the importance of investing in human capital and explained his recent efforts to include a worker training tax credit in the reconciliation package.   

  • On incentivizing companies to invest in their employees: “If I could wave my magic wand, I would create a new tax credit for businesses that invest in workers, and I would give them the bigger tax credit for low-income and lower skilled workers.”
  • On the increasing amount of jobs that require high-level skills: “We think about giving workers more freedom to choose a future career, but I do think we need to match that with a little better assessment of what kind of careers are out there, recognizing that not all careers are going to require four-year college degrees, but they are going to require additions beyond high school.”  

Mary Schmidt Campbell explained how Spelman College prepares students and adult learners to adapt to the contemporary workforce, additional steps the government could take to invest in skill development for workers, and how to incentivize employees to improve their own skills.  

  • On preparing students to navigate an uncertain job market: “It’s really imperative for those of us who are in the field of education to think about how we educate for the future. Whatever job exists now could potentially disappear in the next five years.”  
  • On how companies can inspire their workers to develop new skills: “I think it is a powerful incentive when a company says to its employees, as a matter of your employee benefits, just as you’re entitled to health care or dental care or vision care, we are also going to provide for you to be upskilled.” 

Rep. Alma Adams outlined how HBCUs are developing a talent pipeline for the future, current campus conversations illuminating students’ career concerns, and how to ensure students from community colleges also benefit from workforce development initiatives.  

  • On input from the HBCU community detailing their priorities for growth:  “I’m hearing that we need to upgrade our campuses, we need to make sure that we have the technology that’s appropriate to train this workforce. We want to make sure that we can attract not only good students, but good faculty and staff, and have the kind of research that is commensurate with what we need to do to make sure that we have not only a good workforce, but one that is sustainable.”
  • On why it is critical to upskill workers to meet marketplace demands: “We’ve got a lot of jobs out here. We don’t have many people who are prepared and trained to do them.”

Axios SVP of Events and Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Pathstream CEO Eleanor Cooper, who emphasized the growing demand for workers with multifaceted digital skills. 

  • “Obviously there’s been a large growth in online education since the COVID pandemic, and we see that different learners from different backgrounds with different jobs to be done need different solutions. What we’re talking about here is solving the problems for individuals who face more barriers and more hurdles in the labor market, and those individuals need more than online videos alone.”

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event. 

Workers strike back

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The pace of strikes slowed when the pandemic hit. Now there are signs picket lines are bouncing back amid fresh worker angst.

  • What's new: Production has been halted at Kellogg cereal plants across America after 1,400 workers walked off the job in a bid for better benefits (and worries about job outsourcing).

Kellogg's workers go on strike at all U.S. cereal plants

Kellogg's Corn Flakes production line. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Some 1,400 Kellogg Company workers went on strike at all of the company's U.S. cereal plants Tuesday.

The big picture: The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said in a statement it's seeking a "fair contract" for workers in negotiations with the company after the previous one expired at midnight Monday.