How the U.S. can build a more ‘inclusive’ economy

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Emily McCormick discuss the state of the economy amid supply chain constraints and vaccine mandates with Jane Oates, WorkingNation President.

Video Transcript

EMILY MCCORMICK: As you take a look at this jobs report, of course, much better than expected on a variety of those major metrics, what was your biggest takeaway?

JANE OATES: So look, I think it was really exciting to see the cross sector growth. Obviously, the big growth in leisure and hospitality means that restaurants are opening back up and people are getting more stable employment there. But I was really happy to see what I thought was healthy growth in construction, in manufacturing, AND in transportation and warehousing, because we've been hearing so much about the supply chain. It's great to see people adding jobs in those sectors, because that means they're seeing some improvement in the materials that they need to really do their job.

BRIAN SOZZI: Jane, is there something in this report that you didn't like?

JANE OATES: Well, you know, there's always something in the report that nerds like myself don't like. But I think I was really concerned about the-- the high rate of unemployment with Black men. I mean, almost double the national rate. There's so many great national initiatives going on recognizing the talent in this community. I think we need to double down on that, because we can't have nearly 8% unemployment among Black men. It's not good for the country and certainly not good for their communities.

EMILY MCCORMICK: Jane, on Wednesday, we had Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell saying in his press conference that we could get to maximum employment by the end of next year. Do you think that's within the realm of possibility here?

JANE OATES: Well, wouldn't that be great. I mean, I think there are so many things-- all the things that you've been reporting on in the pharmaceutical community, that the treatments for COVID, obviously, the vaccinations. I think that fear during COVID was one of the big issues with people coming back to work, particularly mothers, who didn't want to take on a job when they thought maybe their school would be erratic in it's reopening this year. So I think it's totally possible, and wouldn't it be great as we rebuild that full employment economy that we really are now concentrating on quality jobs? Jobs that make it worse people going to work.

BRIAN SOZZI: And we see workers, Jane, out there fighting for those quality jobs and higher pay. Look at the strikes at Kellogg and John Deere. These strikes are continuing. What do you think that says about the state of the labor market?

JANE OATES: Well, Brian, I think finally workers are assuming some of their voice. I mean, when you talk about strikes it's usually organized workers who we're most clearly, you know, obviously looking at all the time, because of organized labor being so good at communication. But I mean, you can see it with the terms we've been putting up like the Great Resignation or people being offered a job and saying, wait a minute, I want to negotiate a little bit. Do I have some flexibility, am I getting benefits, are you investing in me.

And that investing in me is one of the newest post-COVID things that I really like. People are looking at employers and saying, are you going to help me move up a career path when I take a job with you. I kind of like that. I like the idea of worker voice and workers having a say in defining what a quality job is. It's not necessarily just a signing bonus, and that might not even be of interest to some prospective workers, but it is that long term investment that you're making in me.

EMILY MCCORMICK: And Jane, of course, yesterday, Biden administration officials announced details of their mandate requiring that US employers with 100 or more workers ensure that employees are either fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested each week for the virus by the beginning of next year. Do you think that's going to put a further constraint here on the labor market if there are some potential workers on the sidelines who aren't willing to follow these mandates?

JANE OATES: You know, Emily, I think mandates are always really hard. But I think people who resist them need to remember this is a pandemic. This virus has killed 5 million people globally. And we are a global economy. So no longer do we just get sympathetic when people die in a distant part of the world, but those people are traveling here and bringing diseases here just like we bring diseases to them. So I think we just need to really concentrate on how do we stay healthy, how do we stay economically productive, and how do we rebuild a more inclusive economy.

I hope we can get past this you know, vaccine-- vaccinate me or not. I was vaccinated 50 years ago when I had to go to elementary school. It's not anything new. I mean, there's a reason we don't see polio in the United States anymore. So I think people need to understand that this is helping, even if you're a little resistant. It's how we rebuild our economy. And I really applaud these private employers who have taken initiative in all parts of the country, in conservative and progressive parts of the country.

I really applaud them for taking that initiative. It's keeping workers safe. I don't want to go work in a community of 100 people and wonder if I'm the only one vaccinated, and should I wear a mask all the time, or should I talk to my colleagues. Let's get vaccinated and end this.

BRIAN SOZZI: Well, Jane, isn't that going to hold back the economic recovery from the pandemic-- you can have this pool of workers that refuses to get vaccinated. I mean, what happens to this group of people?

JANE OATES: Well, I hope-- I hope they moderate their opinion, because I think what's more damaging to the economy, and we certainly saw it throughout the pandemic, is when entities, businesses were forced to close. You know, whether it was meatpacking or whether it was ports. You know, right now, we-- we see these supply chain issues, and I'm coming to you from LA this morning, and I can look out at the LA Harbor and there's 20 or more cargo ships waiting to be unloaded. Some of that is because people on those ships tested positive for COVID. Let's end this virus and get back to the business of rebuilding our economy.

EMILY MCCORMICK: And Jane, you were mentioning some of the supply chain issues, the port congestion that's happening on the West Coast. How long do you expect these sorts of disruptions and constraints to last? And what are some of the solutions that companies should be looking at in the interim?

JANE OATES: Well, Emily, I don't think it's short term, right? It takes a long time. I mean, here, as I mentioned, I'm temporarily in LA, and the LA port last year broke its limit in terms of-- you know, they set new records for how fast they were unloading ships and how many ships they unloaded. And that's happening on West Coast ports and East Coast ports.

I mean, you can see it up and down our coast. Mobile did the same thing in Alabama. You know, beat records last year for the speed and efficiency in which they did it. Part of that is the innovative nature of the people who are running these ports. I mean, again, here in LA, the port director has done all kinds of new technology. They now have a software package where they can predict-- they can tell you accurately what's on a cargo ship to be unloaded. So why is that important? You need to know whether you need refrigerated trucks or you don't need refrigerated trucks, and they can have the right equipment there at-- at the port so they can not only unload, but they can do it really efficiently and get those things out to market.

So I think COVID has really highlighted for me the innovative nature of the people who are working at these ports. But still going to be a problem, right, because globally, we are not at the place with the pandemic where we need to be. And supply chain issues before, where they gave us the talent and the new markets to sell our goods and services, now we're seeing the negative of it. You know, diseases that are in other places are going to continue to impact us. And while we're getting higher-- every day, a higher vaccination rate, those vaccines are not as available in some of the countries that we routinely do business with.