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Is it a slow job market or better opportunities for workers?

It’s a development everyone saw coming, and yet it took American companies by surprise.

Labor economists had for years warned of impending demographic change as American baby boomers left the workforce and a production-based economy was replaced by one that promised more autonomy and higher productivity in knowledge-based sectors. At the same time, it offered little to middle and lower levels of education and socio-economic spectrum other than demoralizing, low-wage and often fragmented employment.

But no one expected a pandemic or its possible silver lining for the lowest-income segment of the country’s workforce. Covid-19 accelerated the development of secular trends, such as the permanent retirement of workers, and led to profound changes in consumer behavior that could transform the future shape of American economic activity.

It also triggered a moment of reckoning for the American workforce. Many have reassessed their jobs: How consistent (and how demanding) were the hours? How long was the trip? How exhausting was the job? How much did you earn?

There is an upheaval as many displaced workers are actively considering or seeking other types of work.

“A lot has happened that people take this pause as a moment to see if the field they were in was really the right one,” said Rosalie Drago, labor commissioner for Suffolk County, New York. “Companies and job seekers are changing a bit right now.”

It’s a paradox in the face of high unemployment rates and a labor shortage, said Nicole Smith, chief economist at the McCourt School of Public Policy at the Center for Education and Workforce at Georgetown University.

“A lot of companies have talked about being unable to find work,” Smith said, and retail and construction, restaurants and manufacturing are particularly experiencing acute supply and demand imbalances.

Many companies, especially in these sectors, are raising wages to attract and retain workers, said Patricia Malone, vice president of the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University. “The world has come back to life, but there are different parts of the economy that are struggling to keep enough people.”

At Marlin Steel Wire Products, a Maryland manufacturing company, company president Drew Greenblatt described the situation as a “crazy town.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Greenblatt told NBC News. “We have a lot of open positions and it is very difficult for us to get people to submit résumés and applications and come for interviews. The market is hot,” he said.

Although he has increased wages by 20 percent, he estimates that his company is 20 percent below the need for labor. “What drives the conversation is the pay,” said Greenblatt.

It takes longer to fill vacancies, said Marc Jones, CEO of Homeland Stores, a chain of 80 grocery stores.

“I’d say it would probably take us a month today, compared to a week or two a few years ago,” said Jones.

Homeland recently increased worker wages for most positions by an average of $ 1 or $ 2 an hour. “It’s probably the biggest annual salary change we’ve ever seen as a company,” said Jones. He added that the increase was intended not only as a hiring tool, but also as a token of appreciation for the company’s existing workforce who had weathered the pandemic, admitting that Covid-19 could have pushed workers into other jobs to consider when they thought it would be easier and safer.

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