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A now-hiring sign outside the Corner Bakery Cafe at the Streets of Southglenn mall is not hard to miss. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Scratch that old 2021 stat that Colorado has recovered 89% of jobs lost in the early days of COVID. The state did even better, according to new revisions that were just announced. We’re at 95.3% recovered. More on that below.

But first, is the answer to the nation’s worker shortage to have more babies, process immigration visas faster and figure out how to engage workers again? 

Economists over at EMSI, a research firm that analyzes labor data, presented those data points in “The Demographic Drought” and discussed the findings this week. The question on everyone’s mind was how employers and the community can figure out what happened to the missing workers. 

“It’s the great enigma right now. Everybody is trying to figure out the answer to this,” said Hannah Grieser, an EMSI senior labor market analyst during an online presentation Thursday. “Really what we need to talk about is how multifaceted the solutions are going to have to be because we’ve got people on the sidelines for a whole variety of reasons.”

According to researcher EMSI, America’s labor shortage won’t be resolved if all 2 million people on unemployment find work, or if the 4 million immigration visas get approved. There are more jobs than both of those populations. The missing workers to fill those jobs are likely just disengaged. (EMSI Demographic Drought report)

While the U.S. birth rate is at record lows and 4 million immigration visas are stuck in processing, those aren’t going to be fast solutions, according to the report. It’s not just parents who dropped out because of child care issues either because that’s only about 5% of the labor force, she said. And it’s not just about people who are collecting unemployment.

“It really is about addressing those unengaged people rather than just the unemployed because we have fewer people unemployed than we have job openings,” she said. “We’d need 4 million additional people to fill that job openings gap.”

There were 2 million people receiving unemployment benefits in the U.S. as of Feb. 5, and 11 million job openings, according to EMSI. The missing workers show up in the nation’s labor force, which has shrunk by nearly 800,000 people since Jan. 2020.

Colorado is doing better than the nation. The state reached its highest labor force level in December, with 3.2 million people, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But compared to before the pandemic, fewer working-age adults are now “participating” in the labor force by working or looking for work. The state’s labor force participation rate was 68.3% in December, compared to 68.9% in Dec. 2019. 

Some suggested solutions: 

  • Down-credentialing job postings: Be realistic about what the job entails. Does it really need someone with eight years of experience and a bachelor’s degree? Grieser said some employers are realizing that some requirements are really “just nice to have.”
  • Be flexible on hours and location: Remote jobs exploded during the pandemic so workers who prefer that will look for those opportunities. Hybrid work weeks have become popular with both workers and employers.
  • Go after people. “Stop putting signs in your windows,” said Ron Hetrick, EMSI’s senior labor economist. “I’m not dissing job boards but you have to have a way of driving people to (the job). We keep talking about recycling the same workers (who apply to online jobs). That’s not working … We have to do something to get to those people who are disengaged.” 

Why Colorado’s pandemic job recovery is now at 95.3%

Every month, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a sense of how many jobs have come — or gone. Last month, its survey of business establishments showed that Colorado had added back 335,589 jobs since March and April 2020 when business closures went into effect to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Then this week, as it happens every month, the data is changed. More bits of information had come in. Revisions were made. Numbers were adjusted.

The revision found that more jobs had returned from July to September than previously counted. Industries with higher numbers included professional and business services (up 10,300), construction (up 4,800), education and health services (up 3,800) and a few others. 

But just as some went up, others went down, including trade, transportation and utilities (down 3,200), and government (down 2,100). The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment suspects that mining and logging jobs may be lowered in future revisions.

Ryan Gedney, CDLE’s senior economist, had a hunch this would happen. The revisions bumped up the state’s pandemic job recovery rate to 95.3%, from 89.3%.

“Our expected revision estimates have been fairly consistent throughout the year, where it appeared that (BLS’ Current Employment Statistics) was underestimating monthly total nonfarm employment levels by approximately 20,000, on average,” Gedney said.

And, as he always does, he said the data could be revised again. But these numbers are more on target with his own estimates.

“The December 2021 recovery rate will differ once benchmarking is completed and that data released, but should be fairly close to the figure calculated with the expected revisions,” he said.

Unemployed must still use IDme 

The Internal Revenue Service said it will stop using the controversial IDme identity verification service on taxpayers, but the state Department of Labor has no plans to follow suit. At least not yet.

“As of today, there are no changes planned to the identity verification process used for unemployment claimants,” according to the emailed reply from CDLE. 

The IRS dropped facial-recognition service IDme due to privacy concerns. All states were forced to set up an identity verification system last year in order to receive federal money to distribute pandemic unemployment and prevent fraud. Colorado picked IDme, which relies on personal data, like credit reports, and a video camera to verify that a person is who they claim to be. 

But it was a mess as a backlog of unemployed workers rushed to get their identities verified, though not all successfully. According to the state’s Daily Dashboard, only 15.4% of unemployment applicants who were told to use IDme did get verified, or 404,829 identities out of 2,631,696 claimants who tried, as of Feb. 25. 

The state felt IDme did its job to block fraudsters from making a false claim using someone else’s identity. Colorado now requires all unemployment applicants to pass IDme verification.

→ IDme will delete by March 11 facial recognition data it collected from taxpayers who registered with the ID verification service to access their tax records. >> Washington Post


I’m looking for folks who opened up a recent bill or looked up at the cash register and realized you’re paying way more for (insert good or service here) than before. What’s your story? Share it as I dive deeper into how inflation is impacting our lives. Thanks for reading. ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. Read the archive, send a message and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter in your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww

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Tamara Chuang

Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww....