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"The Great Shift" refers to the transfer of power from employees to employers when job openings and quit rates decline

Two years ago, when Richard Jordan switched manufacturing jobs, he reaped the benefits of an employer feeding frenzy for his services.

In the end, Jordan, 58, a senior manager who oversees purchasing and production planning, was offered a 15% to 20% raise from his prior salary and negotiated an additional bump.

Now, with his auto supply company moving his position from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Mexico, Jordan is job hunting again.

He’s drawing plenty of interest, notching about 10 interviews in just a few months. But he’s seriously considering taking a job that would keep his salary at about $140,000. The position also would entail a one-hour commute from his home in Kearney compared to his current five-minute hop to the factory.

“I don’t see everyone offering big money,” Jordan says, referring to the bidding war he enjoyed in 2021.

Richard Jordan

Is the job market slowing down?

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The hottest labor market on record is cooling, a development that’s shifting negotiating leverage from workers to employers and could be further underscored by a report on job openings on Wednesday. Fewer job candidates are haggling over salary, snagging signing bonuses and getting hounded by recruiters, according to survey results set to be released this week by ZipRecruiter, a leading job site.

“Some of the increased leverage that workers experienced during the pandemic….that control seems to be waning,” says Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter’s chief economist.

The job market hasn’t yet tilted in employers’ favor, but “it’s more centered,” says Heather Merrick, managing director of white-collar job placement for Express Employment Professionals, a staffing firm.

That should mean decidedly smaller pay increases for American workers broadly by early next year, some economists say. Workers normally don’t welcome more modest raises. But slowing wage growth likely would go a long way toward bringing down inflation from 3.7% to the Federal Reserve’s 2% goal. And it would prod the central bank to start cutting interest rates after its flurry of aggressive hikes has hammered stocks and raised the prospect of recession, says economist Dante DeAntonio of Moody’s Analytics.

The Fed is expected to hold rates steady at a meeting on Wednesday.

The tilt in bargaining power has been particularly dramatic in recent months, the ZipRecruiter data shows:

◾ 29% of job switchers tried to negotiate a higher salary after receiving a job offer in the third quarter (July-September), down from 41% the previous quarter.

◾ 19% got a counteroffer from their old employer and were asked to stay, down from 26%.

◾ 32% said they were recruited to their new job, down from 44%.

◾ 18% received a signing bonus, down from 28%.

Also, about 65% of job seekers said they felt financial pressure to take the first job offer they received, a figure that has roughly held steady since late last year, according to another ZipRecruiter survey.

Are job openings increasing or decreasing?

VIDEO: How 'Quiet Quitting' Became The Next Phase Of The Great Resignation

Another gauge of the job market’s shifting balance of power comes on Wednesday, when the Labor Department is expected to announce that there were 9.2 million job openings in September, down from 9.6 million in August and 10.6 million early this year. That’s still well above the typical 7 million vacancies before the pandemic and would equate to 1.4 jobs per unemployed worker, above the 1-to-1 ratio that signals a healthy market.

But openings have been volatile and don’t necessarily reflect the actual number of positions employers are trying to fill, DeAntonio says. A better barometer of workers’ leverage is the share quitting jobs each month, which slid from a peak of 3% in April 2022 to 2.3% this past summer, in line with the pre-pandemic average. The latest tally of quits will also be reported on Wednesday.

Workers typically don’t quit a job until they’ve lined up a new one and, with fewer opportunities beckoning, more employees are hunkering down in their current positions, Pollak says.

By historical standards, the 2.3% "quits rate" should translate to 3.5% annual wage growth, the level the Fed is targeting to lower inflation. But pay increases typically lag the quits rate by three to six months, DeAntonio says.

Is wage growth slowing?

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That, along with the shift in bargaining power, suggests that wage growth should slow to 3.5% by the first half of next year, DeAntonio says. U.S. pay increases averaged 4.6% in the second quarter, down from 5.1% early this year and 5.7% in mid-2022, according to Labor’s Employment Cost Index.

During the pandemic, millions of Americans left jobs because of child care duties, health concerns, or a cash cushion built by federal stimulus checks and laying low at home. That spawned widespread worker shortages and sharp pay increases aimed at luring those employees still looking for jobs. Millions of workers jumped ship for better pay and benefits, many hopping from one position to the next, a phenomenon dubbed the Great Resignation.

What is happening to the workforce?

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But as the pandemic has faded, Americans have gradually returned to the workforce, a trend that has accelerated in recent months and sharply expanded the pool of job applicants, though it’s still below the pre-pandemic level. At the same time, employer demand for workers has eased some, along with consumers’ COVID-era appetite for new TVs and computers and their pent-up desire to travel, dine out and return to activities curtailed by the health crisis.

A year or two ago, manufacturers received a trickle of job applications, says Greg Sulentic, who owns an Express Employment Professionals franchise in Lincoln and is helping Jordan find a job.

“Any candidate who walked through the door could have a job that day,” he says. A lack of experience wasn’t a hurdle; manufacturers were happy to provide training.

Now, Sulentic says, he’s sending area manufacturers about five times as many candidates and they’re far more qualified. The companies, he says, are taking more time to hire, putting applicants through several rounds of interviews.

“They’re no longer going to take a chance on a candidate who doesn’t have at least some solid work experience,” Sulentic says.

Employers are also determined, he adds, to hold on to the workers they hire. “They don’t want to see job hopping” on a resume, he says.

Many white-collar candidates, meanwhile, are still trying to dicker over salary, Merrick says, “but (most) employers are holding firm.”

She estimates that about 85% of candidates are taking the first offer they receive. A year ago, “Unemployed people were turning down two, three job offers.”

The tougher job market has served as a rude awakening for many job seekers, including recent college graduates.

Are college grads more likely to get hired?

VIDEO: Record Number Of Workers Quitting Jobs
NBC News

Gage Utrup graduated from Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, in May and has sent out 500 to 700 job applications but scored just 15 interviews despite an impressive resume that includes four internships in his field of digital marketing. By now, he figured he would have gotten multiple offers that he could leverage to a higher salary.

“It is a little frustrating,” he says. “I get to a second round of interviews and they ghost me.”

Now, he says, he would take a digital marketing position in any industry.

“If I were to get an offer, I’d take it immediately just to get the ball rolling with my career,” he says.

Gage Utrup

Do workers have leverage?

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Some staffing experts say the job market is still skewed toward employees.

“The pendulum has shifted a little bit to the employer … but it’s still a tight market,” says Mike Steinitz, executive director of Robert Half, a staffing firm for professional and office workers. He cites the historically low 3.8% unemployment rate.

Jo Webber, CEO of AtlasJobs, which sells technology to recruiters, says demand for skilled employees such as nurses is so acute that Atlas targets people who frequently enter and leave hospitals with job ads on their mobile social media sites, assuming they’re health workers.

Pollak says employees still hold all the cards in industries such as health care that are beset by worker shortages. However, the power is shifting to employers in lower-wage sectors such as restaurants and retail.

Last year, Survival Frog – which sells canned meat, masks and other accessories for crisis preparedness – was getting 30 to 40 applications for a customer support opening and just one or two candidates were following up, says CEO Byron Walker. About half wouldn’t show up for scheduled interviews and one-quarter of those who got job offers rejected them.

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Now, he says, he gets hundreds of applications for a vacancy within a couple of hours, and nearly all show up for interviews and accept offers.

“And the quality of applicant is so much higher,” he says,

As a result, Walker says he's taking advantage of the more favorable market to upgrade his eight-person staff this year. He has let go of a few customer service employees he brought on during the dire labor crunch and replaced them with more qualified hires.

Leverage is in the employees hands.


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