Seriously, help wanted

Businesses are trying to open, and the workers aren’t there

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/12/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — What if you flung open your business doors post-pandemic and the workers didn’t line up? 

That’s the problem in Sullivan County.

“There are …

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Seriously, help wanted

Businesses are trying to open, and the workers aren’t there

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — What if you flung open your business doors post-pandemic and the workers didn’t line up? 

That’s the problem in Sullivan County.

“There are just under 4,000 people collecting unemployment,” community resources commissioner Laura Quigley reported on May 6. “The challenge we have now [is that] businesses are trying to call their folks back and they’re not willing to come back.”

Businesses, she said, are going to close because they can’t find help, and that will have repercussions far into the future and deep into the county’s economy.

All you have to do is look at the “help wanted” signs outside restaurants and bars to know that this is true.  

So why aren’t people coming back? There are a few theories.

Some surmise that unemployment compensation is more than people made at their jobs, so why should they work?

Republican legislator Joe Perrello pointed out one danger. “What about when the unemployment runs out?” 

The CARES Act gave the pandemic-unemployed an extra $600 a week; that expired in September of 2020 and has been replaced by a new supplement that provides an extra $300 a week through Monday, September 6.

“[The loss of the extra unemployment money] is obviously part of it,” agreed Republican Michael Brooks.

“I’m hearing the same thing... There is no data [on why people aren’t working], but if you want to work, there are jobs,” Sullivan County Partnership President and CEO Marc Baez said later in the meeting. 

Fear is a possibility. 

Quigley’s report shows a 23.7 percent decrease in jobs in leisure and hospitality, government jobs down 7.8 percent, and education and health services down 6.5 percent. Many of these jobs are high-exposure to the public. That those industries are still shedding jobs could mean ongoing shifts in types of jobs available (more takeout, less in-person dining; governments taking the opportunity to slim down their bottom lines). But the prevalence of those “help wanted” signs could also show that it’s hard to fill jobs that demand lots of face-to-face interaction. And the need for childcare could be another problem. 

“We’re definitely focusing on childcare and school and the challenges with that.” Plus, other people may have very legitimate reasons for staying at home, she said. (COVID-19 aftereffects and caring for family members are possibilities.) 

State unemployment departments are in need of workers themselves.

Quigley said that they’re buried in claims and tracking down fraud and “have no additional staff to be able to enforce the work-search requirements... or to support the businesses” when workers don’t come back.

The upshot? “Businesses are going to close because they can’t find help,” she said, and when the extra unemployment checks run out in September, those jobs won’t be available. 

The Center for Workforce Development is going to start spotlighting businesses and encourage them to explain to potential workers why they should choose to work there. They’ll figure out who the missing workers are and create paths to get them back. Meanwhile, more data is expected in the upcoming weeks. 

Baez, for his part, cited a Kauneonga Lake brewery that won’t open because it can’t get workers. “This is going to have long-lasting effects, deep into our supply chain and our economy. The longer we keep people at home without an avenue to get back to work, there’s going to be a problem.”

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