The Morning Jolt

Economy & Business

‘Too Much Free Money’: Employers Refute Dem Claims on Hiring Slump

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the menu today: As the Biden administration is mystified by low hiring last month, we’re left wondering if they’ve tried talking to employers; Meanwhile, already-high gas prices are expected to jump again, in part because hackers have managed to shut down the most important oil pipeline on the East Coast; and in sad news, a farewell to a former boss.

‘The Government Is My Main Competitor Right Now’

Boy, some Washington Post copy editor must’ve enjoyed writing this headline: “GOP governors slash jobless aid to try to force more Americans to return to work.

The most updated information we have on job openings nationwide from the Federal Reserve is for February, and that month, the country had 7.36 million job openings. We bottomed out in pandemic-driven closings in April 2020, with just 4.6 million job openings. In March, the National Federation of Independent Business survey found 42 percent of owners reported job openings that could not be filled, a record-high reading.

Democrats and their fans in the media keep insisting that the expanded unemployment benefits passed during the pandemic to help people get through have nothing to do with last Friday’s abysmal jobs numbers.

The problem is that employers keep saying otherwise.

Consider this story out of Indiana:

For Todd Hein, president of Terre Haute-based Labor Link, the current shortage is simple — “There’s too much free money sitting out there to stay home,” he said.

Hein specifically addressed unemployment benefits, with Hoosiers typically getting about $298 a week, plus an additional $300 in pandemic-related funds. “That is hard to compete with and it seems equivalent to about $15 an hour,” he said.

As an example, Hein said his company “had an employee who called in and wanted a pay stub to continue his unemployment when the job that he was laid off from would like to have him back and is hiring,” Hein said. “The government is my main competitor right now,” he said.

“I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

Some companies are giving $1-an-hour incentives and $2 for night shifts, raising their $14 hourly rate to $15 for days and $16 for evenings, Hein said.

“We have had other clients raise their pay from $11 to $14,” Hein said. In addition, Labor Link is giving workers a $40 per week bonus if workers complete their full work schedule, “which is the equivalent of a dollar an hour bonus,” Hein said.

However, getting people to accept employment remains a challenge.

“We did a four-hour job fair (on April 27) and had zero people show up,” Hein said of a recent event at a manufacturing facility. “It was set up at their site, it was advertised and was on TV, and nobody showed up.”

Notice this similar-sounding comment from Huntington, W.Va., restaurant manager Jason Webb: “I feel like I am competing against the enhanced unemployment benefits and the stimulus. It is making it hard to find workers when they can make so much not working.”

And this comment from New York City:

Philippe Massoud, CEO of the Lebanese eatery Ilili, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, said he’s “left no stone unturned” in an effort to fill 15 positions — but it’s tough to compete with the hefty unemployment checks.

“If I was working a back-breaking job and making $600 a week and I had had the option of making $600 and not breaking my back — the choice is obvious,” he said.

And this from New Jersey: “I think we’re all having trouble, a lot of restaurants, all kinds of businesses, really,” said Dimitri Koniarelis, the owner of the Bridgewater Diner and two other restaurants in the state. “I think, from the feedback I get, a lot of people are collecting unemployment and they would rather stay home.”

Over the weekend, the Washington Post profiled Miami restaurants desperate for staff: “Beltran said that for every 10 résumés he gets, maybe one person shows up for an interview.” A Chattanooga restaurant features the sign, “We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore.

And it’s not just restaurants, as seen in western New York:

Sumitomo Rubber USA’s tire-making plant in the Town of Tonawanda is trying to fill about 40 jobs, said Paola Palm, talent acquisition recruiter.

“Our most challenging positions are for general production,” Palm said. “It appears the largest obstacle is the motivation people have, or don’t have, to get back to work.”

“If employers can’t find enough workers, they should just pay more!” Well, a bunch of employers are; certainly not all, and maybe not enough, but as seen above, employers are offering all kinds of pay hikes and signing bonuses and still not seeing applicants walking through the door. The problem isn’t that these employers are competing with each other; they’re competing with the government offering $14 to $25 per hour for not working.

The government is offering depth-of-pandemic-era unemployment benefits in an emerging-from-the-pandemic economy.

Hack Attack

The Corner, May 5, contemplating whether we are in what could fairly be characterized as an era of crisis, compared to past eras: “There’s a buffet table of doom in the headlines: rising China, hostile Russia, the Iranian nuclear program, artificial intelligence, another pandemic or weaponized viruses, extremism and radicalization of every kind, cyber-threats, natural disasters and climate change, economic instability or another crash. . . .”

That was Wednesday. On Friday, a ransomware attack shut down the largest petroleum pipeline between Texas and New York, a pipeline that carries 2.5 million barrels a day — 45 percent of the East Coast’s supply of diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. This is going to hike fuel prices, at least in the short term, and “the national average for a gallon of gas stood at $2.962 on Sunday, up 60 percent from a year ago, according to AAA.

The current top suspect is a group of hackers called “DarkSide,” and I don’t know whether to credit them for truth in advertising, or mock them for the generic label. Sure, they better run and hide, not only from law enforcement, but from Lucasfilm and Disney’s lawyers, too.

Weirdly though, this group of hackers seems not just professional, but . . . professionalized:

Guaranteed turnaround times. Real-time chat support. Brand awareness. As ransomware becomes big business, its purveyors have embraced the tropes of legitimate enterprises, down to corporate responsibility pledges. In that same “press release,” posted to the operators’ site on the dark web on August 10 and first reported by cybersecurity news site Bleeping Computer, the DarkSide hackers pinky-swear not to attack hospitals, schools, nonprofits, or government targets.

“The groups are increasingly becoming ruthlessly efficient,” says Brett Callow, a threat analyst at antivirus company Emsisoft. “They have more of a chance of success the easier they make life for their victims—or the easier they make it to pay them.”

Say, fellas, who do you think uses all that oil from that pipeline you just shut down? Among others, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, and the government!

At the risk of irking every environmentalist who’s somehow convinced he can live without oil, maybe we should build more pipelines so we’re less dependent upon any single one? To adopt a common slogan running around these days, oil and natural-gas pipelines are infrastructure. As usual, there’s a list of natural-gas-pipeline projects waiting for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. (FERC regulates the location, construction, and expansion for natural-gas pipelines, while crude-oil pipelines undergo a state-by-state siting approval process.)

Last July, the New York Times looked at various canceled and delayed pipelines and asked whether the construction of new pipelines in the U.S. was coming to an end: “The roughly 3,000 miles of affected pipelines represent just a fraction of the planned build-out nationwide. Still, the setbacks underscore the increasing obstacles that pipeline construction faces, particularly in regions like the Northeast where local governments have pushed for a quicker transition to renewable energy.” Yet President Biden famously canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline upon taking office.

Sure, having redundant pipeline systems wouldn’t eliminate the threat of hackers. But it would double the difficulty of shutting down one avenue of getting oil or natural gas from point A to point B, particularly if the two pipelines had different cybersecurity systems — and lessen the leverage of those who want to get pipeline operators to pay a fortune in ransom.

ADDENDUM: Rest in peace, former Delaware governor Pete du Pont. Our John Fund contemplates du Pont’s legacy here, Kyle Smith remembers him here, you can watch his 1986 presidential-campaign announcement here, and you can see Kevin Nealon play du Pont in a Saturday Night Live sketch, proposing mandatory drug testing for Social Security recipients. Kids, back in the 1980s, the idea of a senior citizen being addicted to drugs was considered so farfetched, it was a punchline.

Way back in the mid-to-late-1990s, when the Internet was relatively new, the former governor and presidential candidate du Pont, by then out of public office, helped launch one of the first Internet-only political magazines, IntellectualCapital.com. That publication was either desperate, foolish, or farsighted enough to hire me as an intern and then years later as a “web producer.” I remember during a small staff meeting on my first go-round, offering some sort of idea that only sounds good to an intern’s ears and du Pont staring at me and asking, “Were you dropped on your head as a child?” (Now you understand why I have so little patience for oversensitive Millennials.) While that anecdote might make him seem acerbic, I remember him being kind, funny, and quick-witted. R.I.P.

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