The U.S. economy lost over 22 million jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 2021, roughly 14 million of those jobs have reappeared.
Math whizzes point out that the economy remains short 8 million jobs — yet the number of job openings today (around 15 million) exceeds the number of pre-pandemic job openings (around 10 million). In other words, the economy is quickly catching up.
It’s catching up so quickly, in fact, that companies are hiring faster than workers are accepting new job offers.
If the economy lost jobs during the pandemic, how could there possibly be a labor shortage?
It turns out many people who left the labor force in 2020 have not yet rejoined it in 2021. Many are parents who have endured reluctance among schools to reopen. That has left them caring for children at home rather than going back to work.
Others faced a skill mismatch. Workers in the restaurant industry, for example, could not just start writing code on a moment’s notice for web developers hiring during the pandemic.
Still others report fear of the virus as holding them back from returning to work, even after receiving a vaccine and watching U.S. infection rates plummet.
All of which has left the labor force participation rate lower than it was in early 2020. It dropped from around 63.4% in January 2020 to around 61.7% in April 2021, per the Federal Reserve.
That’s bad news for employers desperate to hire, but good news for job seekers. Dust off your resume and get ready to negotiate a high salary and benefits!
Industries Hiring in the Post-Pandemic Recovery
Even so, some industries are growing explosively, while others plod along in their wake.
As you consider your next career move, keep an eye on the following industries hungry for fresh workers.
Defying the narrative that the U.S. lost all its manufacturing jobs to robots, automation, and China, the manufacturing sector has roared to life.
Job openings are up a startling 134% year-over-year from March 2020 to March 2021, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Manufacturing actually survived better than most non-professional sectors during the pandemic. The industry didn’t lay off nearly as many workers as most in the service sector, and as the economy takes off even further, the manufacturing industry finds itself deeply understaffed.
2. Mining and Logging
By now, everyone and their mother has heard about the lumber shortage around the world. The reasons range from lumber mills closing down over the past few years, tariffs on Canadian lumber imports, and soaring demand from DIYers and home improvement stores during the pandemic.
It’s driven home construction and renovation prices through the roof, further exacerbating the surge in real estate prices. One April analysis by the National Association of Home Builders estimated that sky-high lumber prices have added $36,000 to the price of the average U.S. home.
But supply chain problems also abound, making it harder to deliver lumber where it’s needed.
The most recent BLS report shows a 94% jump in logging and mining job postings year-over-year. Anyone who loves working outdoors with their hands should research job openings in these fields, whether close to home or further afield.
Speaking of real estate prices booming, home construction companies can’t build houses fast enough. Partially because they can’t hire construction workers fast enough.
There had already been a housing shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly on the lower end of the market. The pandemic-driven run on real estate has only exacerbated it.
Nor is the construction industry only thriving in the residential sector. Governments from the federal level all the way down to the local level have been spending heavily on infrastructure throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And that trend has no end in sight, as the Biden Administration proposes an eye-popping budget proposal over $6 trillion.
All of the new U.S. dollars created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve over the past year has many investors spooked with the spectre of inflation. And to protect against that inflation, many investors have turned to real estate.
Construction job openings have jumped roughly 51% over the last year, and there’s no reason to believe hiring will slow down any time soon.
4. Hotels and Travel
Americans are traveling again in droves.
The hospitality industry got hit especially hard during the pandemic, as travel ground to a halt for a year. Many businesses resorted to layoffs to survive the 2020 downturn, and some failed regardless.
But hotels, airlines, and other travel-related businesses have seen demand spike upward as infection rates drop across the country, and they need workers to help accommodate that rebound.
Yet not all of their previous employees are willing or able to come back. Some switched to other industries, while others dropped out of the workforce and have not yet returned.
The leisure and hospitality industry has seen job openings jump 87% over the past year.
5. Restaurants and Bars
The same story that played out in the hospitality industry has taken place in the restaurant and bar industry. Customer demand collapsed — and now it’s back as everyone wants to go out to eat again.
But restaurants and bars are struggling to refill manager, server, and kitchen staff positions that disappeared due to lockdowns. Anecdotes abound about $500 signing bonuses for no-skill jobs at fast-food restaurants or other previously unimaginable acts of desperation by employers.
Job openings have leapt 91% in the food service industry year-over-year. And as restaurants pay workers more to fill all those empty positions, you’d better believe those costs will pass along to diners in the form of more expensive hamburgers.
Although e-commerce shopping hasn’t disappeared post-pandemic, consumers are definitely returning to physical stores for the in-person shopping experience. Retail jobs have jumped 54% as shoppers start trying on clothes in dressing rooms again.
Some buying experiences just work better in the flesh. And although the pandemic accelerated the “retailpocalypse” taking place in the U.S. as more shopping moves online, the retailers that have survived to now are the strongest of the pack. Consider them the most likely to keep on kicking for years to come.
7. Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
Shopping is (thankfully) not the only recreational activity to make a comeback. As Americans head back to theaters, sporting events, concerts, art galleries, paintball arenas, and everything in between, plenty of human beings need to work both front-of-house and behind the scenes.
This sector has seen job openings climb 67% year-over-year, and it should only keep strengthening as people feel increasingly comfortable in crowds again.
Jobs in both private and public education have exploded in the past year.
Among private sector education services, job openings have jumped 55%. In the public sector, they’ve spiked 58%.
And that doesn’t just include teachers. From school administrators and leadership to corporate training, there are plenty of education-related jobs on the market right now.
9. Sales and Marketing
Businesses only exist if they can actually sell their products and services. Which means they need sales and marketing teams to drum up demand and sales.
Professional and business service job openings are up 32% over the past year as companies try to regain their footing in the wake of the pandemic. And with some competitors having inevitably fallen victim to it, the survivors now look to grow and take on as much of the newly-available market share as possible.
While most of the resurgent industries above are hiring in-person jobs, many of the sales and marketing jobs available allow remote work. If you want to join Zoom meetings from a beach house, consider pursuing a new career in these fields.
10. Health Care and Medicine
Many Americans falsely assumed that all medical-related jobs boomed during the pandemic. As is so often the case, the truth was more complicated.
Sure, there weren’t enough workers directly treating COVID-19 patients in many parts of the U.S. But many people avoided visiting their doctor for routine checkups or delayed scheduling elective procedures.
Which actually meant more downside than upside for most medical-related fields. Dentists and dermatology offices, for example, saw far fewer patients than usual during the pandemic.
So it should come as no surprise that health care fields are hiring for 22% more positions than a year ago.
11. Warehousing, Transportation, and Logistics
Despite the flashy headlines, Amazon isn’t the only company hiring huge numbers of warehouse workers.
Supply chain problems across the country have led to a desperate need for truck drivers, warehouse workers, and logistics specialists. The official BLS numbers understate this need, as they lump in utility workers and report only a 5% bump in transportation, warehouse, and utility job openings year over year. But job openings for logistics specialists, for example, skyrocketed nearly 120% over the past year on Indeed.
Over the past 16 months, I’ve heard endless talk of the “winners and losers of the pandemic.”
It’s time to set that talk aside. Yes, many industries were hit hard. Plenty of businesses went under, and many others downsized to survive, leaving their workers unemployed.
But we’ve all collectively wallowed enough. The economy and labor market have surged to life in the first half of 2021, and all signs indicate strong economic and job growth for the foreseeable future. So even if you counted yourself among the “losers” in the 2020 pandemic, 2021’s labor shortage makes you a definite winner in today’s job market.