The recent news from the Biden administration that travel restrictions will be lifted at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travelers was welcome across Vermont. The lifting of the ban will effectively mark the reopening of the United States to travelers and tourism, signaling a new phase in the recovery from the pandemic.
Certainly, Vermont’s economy is itching for the return of our friends to the north. In most years, as many as 700,000 Canadian tourists visit Vermont. Some tourists who enter the U.S. through Vermont border crossings from Quebec are traveling to other U.S. destinations. However, Canadians contributed more than $120 million to the Vermont economy in 2019. That’s a decline from a high of $144 million in 2013, according to StatCan (Statistics Canada), the country’s government data agency.
Certainly the pandemic, which led to the closing of the border, was costly. So costly, that our congressional delegation — Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch — consistently put pressure on the Biden administration to ease limits to allow the Vermont-Canada border to reopen once it seemed the situation was safe.
Assuming everything goes to plan, a November opening would coincide with the opening of Vermont ski areas, which will begin making snow in earnest as temperatures continue to dip the next few weeks.
But will they actually be ready? Running ski areas and the accommodations and restaurants that go with their ongoing success depend on the service industry, which still has an abundance of job openings at the moment.
On Sept. 17, the Vermont Department of Labor released data on the Vermont economy for the time period covering August. According to household data, the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for August was 3.0%.
According to that latest data, the seasonally-adjusted data for August reports a decrease of 1,300 jobs from July. The seasonally-adjusted over-the-month changes in August varied at the industry level. Those with a notable increase include: arts, entertainment and recreation (+400 jobs or +10.3%); wholesale trade (+100 jobs or +1.2%); and accommodation and food services (+300 or +1.1%).
This week the federal government reported the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a new low point since the pandemic erupted, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.
Unemployment claims dropped 6,000 to 290,000 last week, the third straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest people to apply for benefits since March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily from about 900,000 in January, according to The Associated Press.
That’s good news. Unemployment claims are increasingly returning to normal, but many other aspects of the job market haven’t yet done so. Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Officials had hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide. That hasn’t happened. Instead, observers are starting to consider whether some of those who had jobs before the pandemic, and lost them, may have permanently stopped looking for work.
Earlier this week the online publication Vox published an article titled “Why everybody’s hiring but nobody’s getting hired: America’s broken hiring system, explained.”
It opens, “Essentially anywhere you go in the United States right now, you’re going to encounter ‘help wanted’ signs. But just because a bar or restaurant or gas station wants a worker doesn’t mean a worker wants to work for them. The millions of jobs available aren’t necessarily millions of jobs people want.”
The article cites a survey of workers actively searching for a job on FlexJobs, a jobs website that focuses on remote and flexible work. It found that about half of job seekers said they were not finding the right jobs to apply for. In fact, some 46% of respondents said they were only finding jobs that are low-paying; while 41% said there weren’t enough openings in their preferred profession. So, they’re waiting instead.
In addition, the vast majority of workers, regardless of industry, say they want to work from home at least some of the time, the survey found. While the number of remote jobs has certainly risen, they still only represent 16% of job listings on LinkedIn, though they receive two and a half times as many applications as non-remote work, the article states.
None of that fills jobs needed to get the economy rolling again.
Unfortunately, we cannot afford another downturn. But the bigger question may be: Can we actually afford the restart?