Almost every business is hiring, where are the workers?
Drive across town, and “Help Wanted” signs are out almost everywhere. There seem to be plenty of jobs, but few people willing to take them. Even Ballad Health’s CEO said this week they need help badly to staff not only its hospitals, but the emergency room, in particular.
Like much of Tennessee and the nation, Elizabethton is facing a dangerous shortage of workers, especially restaurants, some of which have had to shut down their dining rooms because of a lack of help.
Across the region, the story is the same: Various factors – baby boomer retirements, skill and education gaps, even opioid addiction and disinterest – are hindering companies at a time when communities such as Elizabethton could use an economic shot in the arm.
Many of these businesses that have posted Help Wanted signs outside their businesses are finding it almost impossible to find new workers.
The problem is that a lot of those openings are in industries that require in-person work, like construction, delivery services, warehousing, or food preparation — exactly the types of jobs now being shunned by many Americans during a fearful pandemic.
Vaccination numbers in Carter County are still low – less than a third of the residents have been vaccinated, so the coronavirus remains a threat to public health. Some workers are fearful of returning to work so quickly; they will do so as vaccinations continue and the risk seems more manageable.
And the pandemic prompted plenty of people to reassess their situations and their futures. They used the time to consider their employment options, to seek online education or alternative careers — especially when employers cut them loose abruptly last spring.
Also, many workers have gotten used to working from home and they are looking for remote work. The problem is that those are not the jobs available right now.
A lot of people think they know why employers are having a hard time finding help. They blame “generous” federal unemployment benefits which Gov. Bill Lee will cut off at the end of the month. We should also point out how health care plays into the problem: There are plenty of jobs paying $9-11 per hour around here. Most of them are part-time, up to 29 hours per week, so the employer does not have to offer health care.
As it stands, most people who want the available jobs can’t afford to take them because they don’t offer sufficient hours or don’t include a health insurance benefit.
The working poor often doesn’t qualify for Medicaid but they can’t afford health insurance.
And childcare, which also is at a premium because the people who need it most can’t afford to pay for it on a job at the grocery store in the day and at the fast-food counter at night.
There are many obstacles to filling job openings. We must recognize that the pandemic has changed many things. However, the local economy will only improve if companies have enough workers to perform the tasks at hand.
We need to quit thinking there are no jobs in Carter County and in the Northeast Tennessee area – and get busy getting trained and applying for the numerous positions that are out there right now awaiting workers.
We also recognize that many of these businesses were eligible for loans they will never be asked to repay and paycheck support programs at the same time they axed staff to stay afloat. Loyalty between management and labor is a two-way street, and sometimes a little extra incentive is needed.