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Unemployment Crisis or Labor Shortage?

The Times had a story the other day entitled Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage whose title laid out one part of a current economic paradox. Another side of things is the reluctance of many workers to take certain types of jobs.

Our local propane supplier has been unsuccessfully searching for two years to find enough drivers for its propane delivery vehicles. The job requires a commercial driver’s licence, which the company will help you obtain, and it involves delivering propane to commercial and residential accounts. At each stop, the driver disembarks from the truck, drags a hose to a storage tank, and then fills the tank. Pay ranges from $15.50-$27.00/hour based on experience and years on the job (a more experienced driver can service more accounts). The workload is light in the summer months when propane consumption is down, but during the winter there is plenty of opportunity for overtime. Some new drivers make close to $50k/year; experienced drivers can pull in $70-80k.

In contrast, after running ads for office workers — customer service reps — in the Valley News and other local papers, this same company found itself with 110 resumés. In a CSR job, you sit in an office all day answering the phone in response to customer calls. Hourly pay: $10.25 with virtually no available overtime. Respondents to this ad were evenly divided between men and women.

What is going on here? Is there such a prejudice against work that involves a semblance of physical labor that people are willing to take a large pay cut for the pleasure of sitting in a cubicle answering the phone? And how many people are sufficiently comfortable receiving their newly extended unemployment benefits that they will not even apply for a propane delivery job that can pay an annual salary that will put them in the top quartile of all Americans?

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