Commentary: Is the St. Louis workforce weakening for the first time in a decade?

By on August 6, 2019

From St. Louis Business Journal:  by Jeff Pitman, chancellor of St. Louis Community College

The St. Louis region is experiencing a sharpened focus on workforce development and unprecedented legislative support. But despite 10 years of economic growth and lows in the unemployment rate, some demographics remain left behind.

On Aug. 7, St. Louis Community College will release its 2019 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report. For the 11th consecutive year, the college surveyed more than 1,100 employers across St. Louis to understand their hiring practices, current challenges and future employment outlook. Every odd-numbered year, we reach out to a broad cross-section of employers in industry classifications that represent a composite of the St. Louis economy.

Proof of our strong economy now seems to be everywhere, from our recent 3.2% GDP growth to the 2.8 million jobs added to the U.S. economy over the last 12 months. After a decade of economic growth and with the U.S. now experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, it is sometimes difficult to remember the challenges we faced during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In July 2009, there were 6.4 unemployed workers for each job opening, and we were in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Fast forward to May 2019 roughly a decade later, the U.S. workforce had less than one unemployed person (0.8) per opening, the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this statistic in 2000.

While employers reported strong hiring during the past year that aligns with national trends, our 2019 survey shows some signs that the steady growth of the last decade may be cooling off. Shortage of skilled applicants remains the primary barrier to expanding employment in the 2019 employer responses. Economic conditions, which had been the largest barrier as recently as 2013, rose slightly this year after a steady eight-year decline. The percentage of employers reporting they will hire new full-time employees dropped by 6% compared with the 2017 survey, while the number of employers indicating they will hire new part-time workers grew to the highest level seen in a decade.

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