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O Worker, Where Art Thou?

I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The movie stars George Clooney and is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey (John Goodman plays a one-eyed character that is the movie equivalent to Cyclops). In the movie Clooney escapes from prison with two sidekicks to retrieve buried treasure in an area that will soon be flooded to make a lake. There’s lots of adventure, but no buried treasure.

The story seems to be an apt analogy to the current labor market – there’s lots of speculation about why we have a labor shortage, but no one has yet to solve the riddle. As of the end of October, the Labor Department reported slightly over 10 million full-time job openings, but only 8 million unemployed workers. So called “experts” have opined myriad causes, everything from COVID accelerated retirements, dissatisfaction with work hours in the hospitality industry or suspect PPP loans.

I don’t pretend to know the cause, only that a prolonged labor shortage will almost certainly drive up wages (talent is not immune to the laws of supply and demand). Labor efficiency has worked wonders for our economy over the last 30 years, let’s hope that continues.