Logistics needs people. So where are the people?

We explore why there’s a logistics labor shortage in the midst of massive unemployment.

It may be the conundrum of the year: massive unemployment paired with…labor shortages. Theories abound as to how these two trends can co-exist in an ostensibly rational economy. The ecommerce logistics sector in particular has been impacted by labor shortages, historic demand for ecommerce services, and limited capacity. So, we set out to learn why, in the midst of a hiring boom in the logistics industry and a large number of unemployed Americans, there aren’t enough people applying.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) of US adults tell us they are unemployed and looking for work. 
    • Note that this number differs from the ‘official’ unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) due to differences in the surveys (while our survey polls individuals, the BLS survey polls households; the survey sample sizes are different; the surveys are weighted by different demographic and geographic criteria, etc.).
    • Astonishingly, our survey finds that more than a quarter of Gen Z and Millennials are looking for work
  • Of those who are unemployed, more than half (62%) say they would consider a job in logistics (warehousing or transportation). 
    • Assuming the total US labor force is still at the BLS’ 2020 average of approximately 161M people, this means that 17.5M unemployed people would be open to working in logistics (if you use the BLS unemployment rate, that’s still a sizable 5.7M people).
    • According to the BLS, the number of people working in the sector has grown by 4.6% since the start of the year—meaning the industry has hired 495,000 workers between January and May, a monthly average of less than 125,000
    • And yet, the number of job openings each month in the sector has stayed fairly consistent at an average of 345,000 per month in the first quarter of 2021 (the latest data available), which would imply that the logistics industry is opening new positions at least as fast as it’s filling them, and there continues to be a gap of more than 200,000 unfilled positions each month
  • So why aren’t these positions getting filled? Here’s what respondents told us was holding them back:
    • The top reason was that the jobs were too “physically difficult or strenuous”—something that may be addressed in warehouses as more assistive automation (like goods-to-person robots) become more commonplace
    • Nearly tied for top reason (within our margin of error) was “not qualified for this line of work”—implying employers need to do a better job marketing their on-the-job training and ease of onboarding
    • Equally surprising were the reasons not in the top spots, many of which are commonly ascribed as the reasons why the unemployed aren’t seeking out jobs:
      • Less than 1 in 4 (23%) of respondents selected “higher pay” as a reason—especially as many logistics companies are now paying well above historic rates
      • COVID-related concerns: only 17%, as many employers are offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated
      • Earning enough money from unemployment and/or stimulus payments: only 15%
      • Child care, an oft-cited reason why fewer women are finding work: only 3% 

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed May 2021.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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