Updated: Aug 14
In 2014, Harry Dent, an economic forecaster, wrote a powerful book called The Demographic Cliff that described how in the mid-20’s the US would experience a seismic demographic cliff of older generations retiring and fewer individuals from younger generations entering the workforce. Now in 2021, Ron Hetrick, et.al., picks up on this theme and describes how COVID-19 has exacerbated the demographic effects of the workplace, highlighting a projected growing problem for the American workforce, the Sansdemic: a lack of people in the workforce (Coffey, 2021). In a recent publication from Emsi, this new trend in today’s workforce has been called a “demographic drought” and affects business leaders’ hiring processes nationwide. What exactly is the Sansdemic and how was it caused? In this insight article, we clarify some of these questions and give insight into how business leaders might reevaluate some of their business strategies as a response.
A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it. - Chinese Proverb
What is the Sansdemic?
The Sansdemic is defined by Emsi as a workforce with not enough people (Hetrick et al., 2021). They share that although there are over 7 million job openings and 19 million Americans who have filed for “jobless benefits,” the number of people seeking new employment has dropped to lows “unseen since the economic depression of the mid-1970s” (Hetrick et al., 2021). This drastic drop in the number of individuals looking for work has affected businesses nationwide.
Small businesses and the Sansdemic
Small businesses in particular are facing challenges when it comes to hiring new employees. One of the reasons these small businesses find it difficult to hire new employees is because over a third of unemployed workers are on temporary layoff, meaning that they have “been told they have a job to return to when the business can recall them” (Ho, 2020). Because these small businesses are not able to compete with the wages and benefits offered by large companies, many individuals on temporary layoffs plan on waiting for their previous employment to re-open.
Large businesses and the Sansdemic
Large multimillion-dollar businesses are facing hiring challenges as well. As many employees have successfully transitioned to work-from-home life, businesses that are requesting employees to return to the traditional workplace have been met with increasing resistance. Consider Allied Universal: a major security services company. They are struggling to hire 30,000 new employees. Because of this, during their employment interview processes they have decided to “typically not let anyone go without making an offer if they are qualified and interested” (Vasel, 2021). More recently, 700 airline flights were canceled revealing “growing concerns of crew shortages” (Fike, 2021)
Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Causes of the Sansdemic
The Sansdemic is a complex challenge with multifaceted causes. All of the following causes are only pieces to a complex puzzle. Because there is no one single identified cause of the Sansdemic, we can conclude that each of these proposed causes interacts with the other proposed causes on this list.
Labor force participation rate 1947-2012 and projected 2022
Baby boomers leaving the workforce
The effect that the baby boomer generation had on the national workforce was great and still remains impactful today. Because baby boomers marketed themselves as being “in pursuit of opportunities,” employers were able “ to shop around for ready-made talent rather than develop it themselves” in a still-present “employer-friendly model of talent acquisition” (Hetrick et al., 2021). However, as the number of baby boomers in the workplace declines, employers must reconsider their hiring strategies in today’s new employee-friendly model of employment. Approximately 2 million baby boomers retire from the workforce every year. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 3 million baby boomers retired from the workforce due to the effects of COVID-19 (Coffey, 2021). These 3 million baby boomers who have retired due to the pandemic will need to be replaced in the workforce—however, the reduced number of individuals in today’s workforce do not provide these replacements.