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COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike, Construction Career Preparation Found Lacking, Jobless Claims Fall

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike, Construction Career Preparation Found Lacking, Jobless Claims Fall

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COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike

A recent rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations could make it tougher for companies to bring employees back to offices.

The Centers for Disease Control reported that new U.S. hospitalizations jumped about 16% over the past week, reflecting a trend that started around late July as the latest coronavirus variant led to rising reports of infections in multiple cities. Hospital stays have been increasing, though not at levels seen at the peak of the pandemic’s emergency phase during 2020 and 2021.

The latest CDC data showed increases of more than 30% during the past week for new hospital admissions in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.

As health authorities prepared to roll out updated booster vaccines later this month, some public schools, universities, government agencies and a few companies have reinstated mask requirements for certain indoor settings. Lionsgate in late August issued a mask mandate for its office workers in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, though the film and TV production company has since lifted the requirement as it monitors regional trends.

The apparent nationwide surge in coronavirus cases comes as average big-city office attendance remains stuck just below 50% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Kastle Systems. The security technology firm reported that employers on average are requiring at least three days of on-site office work, though substantial gaps remain between requirements and days actually spent in offices.

Companies issuing back-to-office mandates for at least part of the week have included Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Facebook parent Meta and even remote-work technology provider Zoom.

Construction Career Preparation Found Lacking

A prominent industry trade group said flaws in U.S. training of construction workers is hurting the economy, with 88% of surveyed contracting firms facing difficulties finding qualified workers for projects.

The Associated General Contractors of America said this week that relatively few candidates have basic skills needed to work in high-paying construction careers, forcing short-staffed contractors “to find new ways to keep pace with demand” for residential, commercial and public infrastructure projects.

“The biggest takeaway from this year’s workforce survey is how much the nation is failing to prepare future workers for high-paying careers in fields like construction,” Ken Simonson, the trade group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “It is time to rethink the way the nation educates and prepares workers for careers in construction.”

Industry groups have previously warned that workers increasingly lack management skills, technology expertise and other planning-related knowledge required for modern construction projects. The contractor group’s survey, conducted with technology provider Autodesk, found 85% of responding firms have open positions they are planning to fill, and 88% are having trouble filling at least some of those.

Simonson said a “shocking” 68% of firms reported applicants lacking basic skills needed to work in construction, and one-third of firms reported candidates were not able to pass a drug test. The trade group said 61% of respondents reported projects being delayed by labor shortages, slightly less than the 65% reporting delays caused by supply chain disruptions.

The contractor group said firms are responding to workforce challenges by raising pay, investing in more internal training programs, and increasingly using social media and targeted digital advertising to recruit younger applicants.

Jobless Claims Decline

Initial U.S. claims for unemployment insurance totaled 216,000 for the week ended Sept. 2, down 13,000 from the prior week and reaching a seven-month low in what remains a strong job market by historical standards.

The Labor Department Thursday reported that the four-week moving average for initial claims was 229,250, a decline of 8,500 from the previous week. Continued claims in all programs, tracked on a more delayed basis, totaled about 1.8 million for the week ending Aug. 19, down 13,000 from the prior week but higher than the 1.4 million continued claims in the comparable week of 2022.

“While signs of looser labor markets are emerging, the low level of initial jobless claims is a reminder that any cooling in labor market conditions is being accompanies by few layoffs,” Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist for Oxford Economics, said in a statement Thursday.

Oxford researchers expect “some increase in layoffs later in the year” as the economy slows, though job losses will likely be relatively modest compared with prior downturns.

The latest data from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed U.S. layoffs dropping in August from July levels. But layoffs in the first eight months of 2023 still totaled more than 550,000, up 210% from a year earlier and led by industries including technology, healthcare and retail.

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