Personal finance

Economists say the labor market is strong — but job seekers don’t share that confidence. Here’s why

The job market looks solid on paper.

Over the course of 2023, U.S. employers added 2.7 million people to their payrolls, according to government data. Unemployment hit a 54-year low at 3.4% in January 2023 and ticked up just slightly to 3.7% by December.

“The labor market has been fairly strong and surprisingly resilient,” said Daniel Zhao, lead economist at Glassdoor. “Especially after 2023 when we had headlines about layoffs and forecasts of recession.”

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But active job seekers say the labor market feels more difficult than ever.

A 2023 survey from staffing agency Insight Global found that recently unemployed full-time workers had applied to an average of 30 jobs, only to receive an average of four callbacks or responses.

“Between the news, the radio, and politicians just talking about how the economy is so great because unemployment is low and just hearing all that, I just want to scream from the rooftops: Then how come no one can find a job?” said Jenna Jackson, a 28-year-old former management consultant from Ardmore, Pennsylvania. She has been actively looking for a job since her layoff four months ago.

“I haven’t quantified how many applications I’ve applied to but it’s definitely in the hundreds at least,” Jackson said.

More than half, 55%, of unemployed adults are burned out from searching for a new job, Insight Global found. Younger generations were affected the most, with 66% complaining of burnout stemming from job search.

A major reason could be the fact that the labor market is cooling.

“There’s less of a frenzy on the part of the employers,” according to Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “If you’re somebody who wants a job, you would like a frenzy on the part of the employers because you would like to have lots of people trying to hire you.”

Some experts suggest it might also be due to the expectations of job seekers.

“How people feel about the job market is informed by their recent experiences with the job market,” Zhao said. “In 2021 and 2022, there were labor shortages, so [employers] were offering all kinds of perks and benefits to try to get people in the door. So even if 2024 is shaping up to be a relatively healthy labor market by recent comparison, it doesn’t feel quite as strong.”

Watch the video above to find out why getting a job feels harder than ever.

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