America is suffering a severe, across-the-board labor shortage. The worker deficit is especially acute across some of our most essential professions. Absent congressional action on fixing our dysfunctional immigration laws, some of these scarcities cannot be resolved. Others, however, lend themselves to a simple solution that can be immediately implemented. Here are three examples:
Law Enforcement. In August, the entire Goodhue, Minnesota police department resigned, citing low pay. The seven-person force earned $22 per hour. In a 2022 survey, two-thirds of law enforcement professionals stated that police recruitment and retention is the largest issue facing law enforcement. The number of police officers nationally has decreased while the population has increased. According to the 2021 International Association of Chiefs of Police Survey on police retention and recruitment:
- 78% of agencies reported having difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates.
- 65% of agencies reported having too few candidates applying to be law enforcement officers.
- The Police Executive Research Forum’s Survey on Police Workforce Trends found an 18% growth in resignations in 2020-21, compared to 2019-20.
- Many departments are seeing officers retire as early as possible and collecting lower pensions due to increased workload and burnout. Retirements increased by 45% in only one year.
Education. Heading into the 2023-24 school year, districts are short more than 300,000 teachers. Teachers leaving the profession cite low pay, long hours, piling on of additional responsibilities, having to buy supplies out of their own pockets, shoddy treatment and disrespect by administrators and parents, the strains brought on by the pandemic, and anti-education political initiatives (see, e.g., Florida). 70 percent of teachers work a second job to make ends meet. Impossible demands on top of abysmal pay are driving educators away.
In the 21st century, central district offices have devoted more resources to hiring more administrators than teachers. Administrative bloat is rapidly becoming as much of a problem in K-12 as it is in colleges and universities.
Healthcare. Emergency medical technicians in the U.S. average about $33,000 per year, barely more than the poverty level for a family of four. EMTs in “red” states earn even less. Few occupations can mean the difference between life and death like that of an EMT. But low wages are forcing EMTs out of their jobs in droves. Similar to not paying reasonable wages to cops and teachers, not paying for indispensable EMT services makes no sense.
I learned about supply and demand in my first day of freshman economics in college. If demand for labor is high, but the supply of workers is low, employers need to offer higher wages to being the two curves into equilibrium. It’s too bad that the government officials responsible for tolerating these worker shortages never took microeconomics.
The solution is to pay people what they are worth to society. Other countries understand this. American politicians apparently do not.
The average annual salary for a Canadian police officer is more than US$76,091. An entry level constable earns US$50,000. Canada does not have a cop recruitment or retention problem.
Starting pay for teachers in Switzerland is almost $75,000, roughly twice as much as the U.S. average. Switzerland is not experiencing a teacher shortage. The Alpine nation realizes several powerful collateral benefits from offering attractive salaries: (1) Teaching attracts high achievers to the profession; and (2) Swiss students at every level score much higher on reading, math, science and every other test that measures academic achievement than their U.S. counterparts. Top-notch teachers make a difference.
A Canadian EMT in Ontario can earn an annual starting salary equivalent to US$60,000. Those who reach the top of their profession—Critical Care Paramedic—can earn more than US$100,000. Canadians flock to this profession.
It should be obvious that all three of these professions are essential to our safety, health and intellectual development. Try doing without them and see what happens. We are perfectly willing to compensate the so-called “learned professions,” particularly medicine and law, at what amount to princely rates. Why them and not cops, teachers and EMTs, all of whom are at least as critical to our well-being?
September 1, 2023