What Wordle Can Teach Us About Life, the Economy, and the Labor Market

Actalent's Economy & Labor Market Brief: February 2022

There's a lot happening in the world, including the labor market and economy—and if you eat, wear clothes, drive a car, need a car, or drink coffee you’re likely experiencing the financial effects of it firsthand: inflation is at a new 40-year high in February, and Russian’s invasion of Ukraine will continue to drive prices up further.

If you play Wordle, life feels a little like that right now. Puzzling. Hard in a lot of ways, easier in others. Wide open. Dead-ended. Right, but out of order. Wrong, but still stuck. So, check in on each other. Ask for help if you need it, offer help where you can. It may look different than expected, but puzzle will get solved. Spring is coming. Things will turn green again.

Job growth, unemployment, and worker demand.

Overall. The economy added 678,000 jobs in February, continuing a two-month trend of higher-than-expected growth. The overall unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in February but there were still 11.3 million open positions. Even with the slight increase in labor force participation rate (the number of people in the workforce or actively looking to join it), there just aren’t enough workers to meet the demand.

For every available worker, there are 1.7 open positions.

Engineering and Sciences. The market is even tighter in engineering and sciences. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 9.4 million engineering workers and 1.8 million sciences workers in February 2022, with a total of 1,575,471 job openings between engineering and sciences labor categories according to EMSI/Burning Glass.

Unemployment rates in engineering and sciences continued to fall well below the national average between December and February:

Software-Hardware-IT-& Mathematics:  1.9%

Architecture + Engineering:                       2.0%

Sciences—Life, Physical, & Social:            2.1%

Engineering and sciences job postings were nearly SEVEN TIMES the number of available workers.

Wages and inflation.

At 7.9 percent, February’s inflation rate is the highest it’s been since January 1982. The cost of everything is up. And while energy prices were already high, the war in Ukraine will continue to send them even higher. Economists have their eye on what this means for the economy; employers and employees have their eye on what it means for long commutes and remote-hybrid work.

We've reported on the wage increases over the past few months as employers attempt to both soften the impact of inflation and compete in a tight labor market. February’s wage growth was flat, but economists don’t see that as a trend, predicting wage increases will increase in 2022 along with job growth.

Something Positive

And no, we're not talking about a COVID test. In fact, the bright spot in this month’s report: COVID infections were dramatically down, state restrictions are lifted, and worker absenteeism due to illness in February was cut in half from January.

Connecting the Dots

  • At the national level, the Federal Reserve still plans to implement a series of interest rate hikes beginning in March to combat inflation. However, some economists worry that these hikes will dampen economic job growth as higher energy prices and existing supply chain issues become further worsened by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
  • To combat supply chain issues, many companies are developing US-based solutions, which is expected to place an even higher demand on technology and engineering-related skillsets. Intel, which recently announced it’s $20 billion dollar semiconductor chip factory in Ohio, posted its first job openings: civil/structural engineer, construction environmental safety engineer, basebuild project manager, chemical/process construction project engineer, design manager, architectural project engineer, and electrical project engineer. Between the increase in US- or near-US-based manufacturing and the digitization occurring in nearly every industry, the already high demand for engineers is expected to skyrocket.
  • Companies continue to offer higher wages, signing bonuses, and increased flexibility to attract applicants in a tight labor market. A recent trend we’re also seeing is high-production video campaigns. Typically reserved for promoting products, companies with a budget for these high-priced advertisements are using them to attract talent instead.

Past Issues:

Actalent's February 2022 Market Matters synthesizes information from a variety of sources including the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics survey results, media reports, industry intelligence, company earnings reports, and external labor market data. The full set of data is included as a companion to this article.

If you'd like more information on the data presented, or have questions about the information provided in this report, please contact our team at: content@actalentservices.com.

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