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Our View: Wacky world of jobs, strong economy, inflation

Are you the person who lives for the scraping sound of blade meeting ice? When someone must remove snow, is your first thought, “Let it be me?” Is your favorite tool your shovel or plow on your truck? Ready to take it to the next level? Become a snowplow driver!

In all seriousness, the Durango Streets Division will host a job fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the Santa Rita Administration Building, 105 South Camino del Rio.

It’s not just commercial drivers needed. Across city departments, about 14% of positions are unfilled. In 2021, in the throes of the pandemic, 20% of the city’s job force were vacant, or about 80 of the city’s 400 full-time positions.

Currently, La Plata County has about 10% of positions open.

On Nov. 27 in The Durango Herald, a story with the headline, “Job vacancies take toll on city of Durango programs, services,” Kimberly Ebner, aquatics operations supervisor at the Durango Community Recreation Center, said low wages, rude customers and high safety demands contribute to a lack of lifeguards.

Rude customers? We get it. We’re just not sure we’ve ever heard impolite rec users would deter workers from taking jobs.

That’s how it is these days. Workers can be especially discerning in this hot market – one that may be too hot for its own good. It’s one of the indicators we are living in a wacky world of plentiful jobs in a strong economy, along with resilient inflation with astronomical prices on produce (hello, lettuce!) and gas prices down 2%.

Meanwhile, our housing market remains out of reach for many until more surplus is available. For construction already in the pipeline, it’s gangbusters. But supply chain issues dog future building prospects. And higher interest rates make it more difficult for working people to buy a home.

Strange times with a lot of different signals. Stronger-than-expected job growth, hiring across major sectors. These measures don’t portend an economy in recession. Yet, economists warn a recession could happen, depending on how all factors play out and converge at particular times.

And, with so many Help Wanted signs around, a piece of the puzzle is where have all the workers gone? We’re not seeing the robust labor force participation pre-COVID-19. Child care remains problematic, pulling parents from the workforce. On the verge of retirement, former workers took that leap to leisure. Some Americans struggle with “long COVID.” Many died.

Now, the U.S. economy is open for business. Job openings are abundant. Still, the number of workers remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Labor shortages contribute to supply chain issues, higher prices.

On the other hand, those employed pay those higher prices with 20 million more people than last year – so far – shopping for the holidays. Another factor that elevates inflation.

Much is swirling around.

Also dinging the workforce, the shift away from the grind toward less work-intensive lifestyles. We’ve re-evaluated how we want our work world to look. It doesn’t include rude people.

The New York Times economy writer Jeanna Smialek said although Americans are soured on the U.S. economy, they feel good about their own prospects. We can leave our jobs and find new ones. This is huge!

The U.S. economy can head toward a hard landing or a soft landing, Smialek said. A hard landing means inflation climbs and we go over the precipice into a full-on recession. A soft landing means the job market cools and we experience a gradual, overall slowdown. Inflation? Meh.

In Durango’s Streets Division job fair news release, Public Works Director Allison Baker said even if the city has a job “you may be interested in ‘someday,’ Dec. 14 will be a great day to stop in and learn more.”

Always nice to have options.