Millions of Americans who were laid off from work in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic now face a heated jobs market with even desperate occupations eager to find jobs.
But amid the continued spread of the delta COVID-19 variant, despite the cessation of proposals for enhanced federal unemployment benefits and higher wages in some areas, workers are trickling, not rushing, back into the labor market.
Consumers eager to spend money will generally be a boon to the service industry in Charlotte, North Carolina. But businesses here, as in many parts of the United States, are not getting enough workers to meet demand.
Help signs are ubiquitous at storefronts across the city, where since May 2020, the local unemployment rate has dropped from about 14% to less than 5%.
“Oh, here’s the business,” says Lether’ Rothertold VOA, general manager of Bricks Wood Fard Pizza. “The restaurant is busy and we are making a lot of money, but I don’t have the staff to keep me.”
Similar is the case with The Giddy Goat Coffee Roasters, an independent organization with a unique business model of roasting coffee beans in-store and in front of customers. The coffee shop was started during the pandemic and has struggled to keep up with demand.
“When we think we’re good [for workers]“The volume goes up, and we suddenly need more help,” said manager Enzo Pazos. “Two people go to school, that’s two less staff, so it’s like it’s never enough.”
“You’re seeing changes across the country to the same theme of a worker shortage,” economist Matthew Metzger of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte told VOA.
Metzger noted that a federal economic stimulus program provided some workers with more temporary income than in their old jobs before the pandemic.
“What’s happening is certainly with that higher unemployment compensation, people are less willing to work and people are less willing to accept lower wages,” Metzger said.
Others who remain unemployed say they are reluctant to take a job that would put them in close contact with the public at a time when the United States averages more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths a day.
Job seeker Alex Jordan Koo said, “Most people who are unemployed do so for security reasons.” “I have some friends on unemployment, and their safety was their main concern. They are not looking for a job. They move back home to live with their parents so that they can be without a job for some time until things feel safe for them. “
Yet another problem keeping many people out of the workforce is the lack of affordable child care – a problem exacerbated by COVID-related school closures and distance learning that has forced many parents to stay at home with their children. forced to.
This problem may lessen as schools reopen across the country this fall, but parents of young children are still finding it difficult to secure placement in child care facilities, which themselves employ enough qualified staff. are affected by difficulty in keeping on.
Partly aimed at getting more people back to work, the Biden administration is promoting increased child care subsidies as part of a proposed $3.5 trillion plan to fund infrastructure and social safety net programs.
The end of this month’s supplemental unemployment benefits should see at least some workers return to the labor pool as their bank accounts are drying up. But Metzger says many potential workers are not eager to return to jobs that pay them less than benefits.
“From a worker’s perspective, there is opposition to going back to lower-wage positions, and in some situations, there may not be much to entice them back,” he said.
At a recent job fair in the neighboring state of Virginia, securing adequate compensation was on the minds of many potential applicants, many of whom emphasized factors beyond an hourly wage.
“What I’m looking for is something where there is long-term stability, and the benefits are important,” Lysette Baez told VOA at the Leesburg, Virginia, event. Even though she may have opted out of unemployment benefits, Baez indicated that she stayed for a job that includes things like generous health insurance benefits.
“The cost of insurance is going up these days. And I think that’s a huge concern for a lot of people,” she said. “So it’s not enough to just have a job that will pay you a certain amount. You have to have those other things.”
While employers have no control over the pandemic, labor advocates say they have leeway in what they offer to lure workers.
“In all frankness, raising wages is the only thing that’s going to get people back to work,” Charlotte’s labor organizer William Woltz told VOA.
Woltz, president of Unite Hears Local 23, a union for airport workers, said workers are required to have an hourly wage in the range of $17-$22, far higher than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. .
“Unfortunately, to live in Charlotte you really have to make a living wage to be able to afford housing and living needs,” he said.
heard the message
Amid fierce competition for labor, a growing number of US employers, large and small, are sweetening the pay and benefits packages offered to job seekers. E-commerce giant Amazon.com, Inc. recently raised its average starting wage to $18 an hour, up from the $15 minimum wage the company set before the pandemic.
In Charlotte, Giddy Goat founder Carson Clough said he expects to negotiate a certain amount of money in determining compensation for new employees.
“If employees have requests regarding pay and benefits, I listen to everything,” Clough told VOA. “My business partner and I started with the mindset [in] Which we are going to try to meet the high-level salary requests even before the pandemic. I’m willing to listen to individual demands, like ‘how can I do this’ or ‘how can this be part of the package’ or something like that.
According to Metzger, flexibility and creativity will be the keys to hiring and retaining workers going forward.
“Companies may consider bringing in workers who can contribute in many ways, doing something that brings value to the business. That would be a win-win, it would allow the worker to invest. while the worker gets a higher salary in return,” said the economist.
He said, “Some of these positions are to be re-imagined so that workers have the opportunity to produce more value, so managers set up workers to produce value for the company, which again for the worker.” With comes higher wages,” he said.