The Iowa Workforce Skirmishes by Ron Cox, PhD, CIRAS director

The Iowa Workforce Skirmishes by Ron Cox, PhD, CIRAS director Main Photo

6 Nov 2021

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines skirmish as “a minor fight in war usually incidental to larger movements.” This seems a fitting description of the labor force issues that have been brewing in Iowa—and what the data suggests we will be enduring for years to come. That is, we aren’t in a full-out war for employees quite yet—but we are getting close.

How has this shortage of workers gotten so bad, so fast? Is this all due to COVID-19? The following analysis will show that COVID-19 accelerated the unavoidable, and that we need to look at the workforce from a different perspective if Iowa companies want to continue growing here.

How we arrived at our current state is a multifaceted phenomenon. Nationally we are seeing workforce shortages, resulting in part from increased demand and supply chain issues, but also exacerbated by other factors like a declining rate of population growth and a downward trend in the labor force participation rate. In Iowa, low population increases, unevenly distributed population growth, a high and plateauing labor force participation rate, and other more complex factors all contribute to our workforce issues.

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