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Why are there so many jobs when there's talk about a possible recession?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Despite talk of a possible recession, the job market is not slowing down. One possible explanation may be something called labor hoarding. That's when employers hold on to more workers than they need. Darian Woods and Adrian Ma from our daily economics podcast, The Indicator from Planet Money, found it's a little more complicated than that.

ADRIAN MA, BYLINE: To better understand how employers are feeling about their staffing situations in this uncertain economic time, we spoke with Mike Kaeding. He's CEO of a company called Norhart in the Twin Cities area.

MIKE KAEDING: We design, build and rent apartments. And we're really focused on driving down the cost of housing.

DARIAN WOODS, BYLINE: Norhart does everything from making fittings for their apartments to constructing the buildings and managing the rentals. And Mike is still hiring for a bunch of roles.

KAEDING: Precast concrete erector.

MA: That is a person who helps hoist up big slabs of concrete.

KAEDING: The steel wall panel plant factory foreman.

MA: That is a supervisor for a factory that makes steel walls.

WOODS: And to attract the best staff, Mike says he pays top-of-the-market rate. And he gives this message to his existing workers if another company calls them.

KAEDING: Take the call when a recruiter calls you. We want working here to be a choice that you made. If they offer something better, we will match or beat what's out there because we never want pay or benefits to be the reason why you leave.

WOODS: But...

MA: There are storm clouds in the housing industry. Across the country, demand for apartments is down. New construction starts are falling away. And there's a chance Mike won't need all of those new workers over the next couple years. Still, Mike says...

KAEDING: I am going to fight tooth and nail. I'm going to give up my own paycheck before I'm going to lose that person. And maybe that's born out a little bit of the fact over the last three, five years, it's been so hard to find those good people. And that's so ingrained in my mind.

JULIA POLLAK: That is a very common experience across the economy.

WOODS: Julia Pollak is the chief economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.

POLLAK: We just ran a survey of 2,500 people who started jobs in the last six months. And about 1 in 4 of these new hires say that their previous employer asked them to stay and countered their outside offer. That shows how much employers are trying to hang on to their workers.

WOODS: There's this idea that's been talked about called labor hoarding. Do you think this might be part of the story?

POLLAK: It could be. There are some surveys that suggest that companies are holding on to more workers than they need. But many industries, like leisure and hospitality, still have a substantial shortfall in staffing.

MA: Julia says the big reason for this struggle to hire is because there are just millions of workers who have left the workforce during the pandemic.

WOODS: I mean, just stepping back, this whole story of employers still scrambling for workers kind of feels at odds with all those layoffs that were announced recently.

POLLAK: I think one way to interpret them is that tech and finance punch above their weight in headlines. You know, the Goldman Sachses of the world, the Facebooks, the Googles - they're the opinion makers, whereas it's the, you know, McDonald's and the Macy's and the companies on Main Street that employ far more Americans.

MA: Julia says while labor hoarding might be happening in some places, the bigger factor seems to be that Main Street is still hungry for workers. Adrian Ma.

WOODS: Darian Woods, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRAMAH PHREE'S "AGAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Darian Woods is a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money. He blends economics, journalism, and an ear for audio to tell stories that explain the global economy. He's reported on the time the world got together and solved a climate crisis, vaccine intellectual property explained through cake baking, and how Kit Kat bars reveal hidden economic forces.
Adrian Ma
Adrian Ma covers work, money and other "business-ish" for NPR's daily economics podcast The Indicator from Planet Money.