This was the title of a recent “Wall Street Journal” article regarding the deficient United States labor force. It seems that the U.S. is simply missing 5 to 10 million workers who have vanished. How do we know they vanished? The labor positions were filled prior to Covid and now they have gone begging. Evidence of the labor shortage is everywhere. Restaurants, retail, manufacturing, law enforcement, trucking, airlines… the list goes on. So where are the workers? Are they hiding? Collecting unemployment? Maybe they joined the military? No. We are simply experiencing a demographic shift because workers naturally age along a time continuum. It would have happened with or without Covid, but Covid did play a part. The older players in the U.S. labor pool, 80 million Baby Boomers, are currently 57 to 76 years old. Many stayed in the labor force past normal retirement years because they could, or had to for financial reasons. Covid, however, convinced them that life was too short to continue working so they are retiring like lemmings. So, who fills their footprint? Generation X? Sorry: 69 million, now 37 to 56 years old, Gen X-ers don’t have the critical mass to step up to the task. What about 20 million middle-aged Latino immigrants? They will be a solution in time but lack the necessary skill level at present. Who is left? Eighty-eight million Generation Y Millennials aged 17 to 36 years old. Are they ready for jobs requiring high levels of education, skill, management, and training? Some are, but this is a generation that hangs on to adolescence and lives with their parents until they are thirty. I know, go figure. So, there you have it. A very sticky demographic labor issue with no solution that jumps off the page. But wait. There’s more!

The United States has an invisible hidden population of working age labor aged 20 to 60 years old that could exceed 20 million. They don’t work. They can’t work. They are felons, folks who have done at least a year in jail. They are mostly male and are a voluminous product of “the war on drugs”. They spin in and out of jail like a revolving door. Recidivism is an enormous problem especially as it relates to drug users and drug sellers. No mystery there.

Are they capable of working? Yes, the vast majority are very capable. They would have to be screened of course. So, what is the problem? Insurance. They can’t be bonded. Can we solve this problem and restore these folks to the dignity of working for a living and supporting families? I believe we can but insurance companies I have spoken to don’t share my view. I am not giving up. This would be a win/win for the United States.

I often speak to the trucking industry, and I hear the same refrain: No drivers, no drivers, no drivers. Do the potential drivers exist? Yes. Will hiring felons be challenging? Yes. Impossible? No. Many of my clients tell me that the felons they have hired are some of the best drivers/workers they have ever had. How did they get around the insurance bonding issue? They negotiated with the insurance companies and contracted with drivers for a personal high level of performance. I am told that the drivers know they are catching a break, a serious break, and are willing to sign binding personal guarantees regarding their conduct. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Can this straightforward system work on a large scale? It must or we will not solve this devastating labor issue in the United States.

The War on Drugs precipitated this labor problem. The War on Drugs did not solve the drug problem. It is time we revisited this issue and took a closer look. It’s time for a change.


Kenneth W. Gronbach is Futurist, a gifted public speaker and a nationally recognized expert in the field of Demography and Generational Marketing. Ken entertains his audiences with his own special brand of wit, humor and clear communication. He makes the science of shifting demography come alive with real life examples that make it relevant to today’s culture, business climate and economy.  In his new book “The Age Curve, How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Storm”, published by The American Management Association, Ken takes you through a fascinating common sense understanding of shifting demography and the related opportunities and challenges.The demographic landscape in the United States is made up a series of waves that are about twenty years in duration. It would follow that business will rise and fall according to the critical mass of customers heading toward it. You will enjoy extraordinary success if you are prepared and in front of the wave.  

Ken’s perspective is macro, a view from 30,000 feet, and very big picture. Demographers are able to forecast markets, societal phenomena, and economics with uncanny accuracy because they count people, not money or things. For example crime has been down in the United States for the last twenty years because the number of high risk crime committers (men 15 to 30 years old) has been low and fully employed. This is because the fertility in the United States dipped sharply between 1965 and 1984 creating a deficit in our population of about nine million people. This shortage of young people in the labor force also drove labor costs up and manufacturing off shore.  

Ken talks about how manufacturing will return to the United States with a vengeance because the United States is the only industrialized nation with a huge young highly skilled workforce, Generation Y, born 1985 to 2004. Generation Y is bigger than the Baby Boomers. The United States is the only industrialized nation with above replacement level fertility of 2.2 children per couple. The United States is on the only continent that can both produce and consume within its borders. The European Union has experienced below replacement level fertility for decades and has crippled it’s labor force and internal consumer demand. China has “prevented” 400,000,000 live births in the last three decades because of it’s ill-fated one child only policy and will not be able to feed itself in ten to fifteen years, let alone be a manufacturing force.  Demographically China is history destined to get old before it gets rich. 

Ken speaks about how the employee’s market of the last twenty years is about to be reversed. For twenty years the tiny Generation X, born 1965 to 1984, has not supplied enough entry level labor to the work force to meet the demand. The Huge Generation Y born 1985 to 2004 will change all that and the United States will experience an employer’s market for the first time in twenty years. Keeping employees motivated will be easy. It will be a condition of employment. Employers will be able to hire the best and brightest employees at will at very competitive rates.

For more information on Ken Gronbach, visit or call Midwest Speakers Bureau at 515-974-8305.