Workforce issues expected to persist after COVID benefits
Millions of people this month will stop receiving the additional unemployment benefits instituted by lawmakers during the pandemic.
But for many of them, obstacles to finding suitable work still exist. While there is no shortage of jobs available, employers continue to report difficulties in hiring skilled workers. Most signs are that this will not change now that expanded federal unemployment assistance programs – which allowed additional weekly benefits and expanded benefits to more people – are expiring.
On the contrary, some labor problems could worsen this fall in some places. In areas like Petoskey, many companies have been able to supplement their workforce by hiring students on summer leave. Now that teens and students are back to school, businesses in the region are likely facing a downturn again, which can mean shorter hours and more shutdown days, said Nikki Devitt, director. of the Petoskey Region Chamber of Commerce.
But the shortage affects almost every level of the economy, not just service jobs.
“When you can go to the hospital’s website and see that there are 200 jobs listed, that indicates it’s not just affecting one industry,” Devitt said.
The problems facing businesses and local communities cannot simply be boiled down to the effect of economic stimulus efforts during the pandemic, and it is also more complicated than a simple mismatch between the types of jobs available and the skills of those looking for work. And it’s a trend that started long before 2020.
“We’ve seen this trend, we’ve seen where it’s going, it’s not the first time we’ve seen a sign of seeking help in our community,” said Devitt.
The work crisis may have been sparked by the pandemic, but it is the product of a much more complex array of structural issues, said Rebeca Otto, director of community impact for Charlevoix and Emmet United Way of Northwest Michigan. .
“The job can be perfect, well paid, doing what this person needs to support their family, but they don’t have reliable transportation, or they don’t have childcare services. or housing that she can afford. ” she said.
One of these factors is the fact that wages, in many cases, are too low relative to the cost of living. Michigan’s minimum wage is $ 10. In Emmet and Charlevoix counties, about 35% of people fall into the “Limited working, limited income, employed” category, often referred to as the “ALICE” population – meaning that even with a job, they are find it difficult to afford the basic things they need. to survive, live paycheck to paycheck and are on the verge of bankruptcy. These factors put additional pressure on the already difficult tasks of transporting, housing and caring for children.
“If you look at these things and you have a job that pays this paltry amount, it’s not possible for a person to say, in the midst of this pandemic where things are already risky,” I’m going to take this job that won’t. doesn’t really provide us and stretches everything thinner than it needs to be, ”said Otto. “So there are quite a few who have just left the job market. ”
What they do to survive afterward varies, but she said it can include changes such as multigenerational living situations and depending on other people for transportation.
The shrinking workforce can also be attributed to the ‘great migration’ and ‘great retirement’ which both took place after the start of the pandemic, when many people moved to find a job. new job or have decided to retire, said Devitt.
But Devitt and Otto both said unemployment benefits appeared to have played a minimal role, and Devitt said the number of people receiving such aid had declined.
“When you see a decrease in the number of unemployed, but your labor shortage is the same or even greater, then you know that is obviously not all,” she said. it’s not like you are suddenly going to have all these people looking for jobs next week because their unemployment has run out. ”
And even for those taking unemployment, the allowance was probably more of a lifeline than an excuse not to work. For many, it may have given them the opportunity to pay their bills on time, Otto said.
“You ask someone who has finally found a bit of a break and then goes back to a place where things are going to be more difficult and then put them in a health risk situation as well,” she said.
“We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat, and there are people who can afford to get through this storm with minimal damage, and there are people with a canoe with holes, and somebody gave them the option to fix their boat, and now you’re telling them they’re lazy because they don’t row.