Labor Day 2022: Help Wanted signs are the norm

Published 11:18 am Friday, September 2, 2022

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Help Wanted signs have been the norm around Elizabethton and elsewhere for some time. This holiday weekend, Help Wanted could be the two-word theme of Labor Day 2022. The signs are posted front and center on fast food storefronts, company signs, and out front. Also everywhere you go – Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, grocery stores, etc. _ the signs are out. Nursing homes and, hospitals also need help.
As of July Tennessee had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent with 114,000 unemployed people. August records show 150,000 people were drawing unemployment insurance in Tennessee.
While the state’s unemployment rate remains low, there are still many Tennesseans searching for meaningful employment. Employers have tens of thousands of jobs they need to fill. But what is great news for the labor market is a constant source of frustration – and at times – desperation – for those looking for workers.
The labor shortage is without question affecting all aspects of our lives, from entertainment to education to health care to business. Take a drive down Broad Street and W. Elk Avenue in Elizabethton, for example, and “NOW HIRING” signage is so ubiquitous it’s simply blended into the retail landscape.
Fast food and health care supervisors admit they “struggles with turnover,” and often have to put in long hours to cover shifts, including for employees who decide suddenly “they don’t want to come in to work anymore.”
Why do workers quit? Sometimes, it’s for better pay; other times they get a new job that pays more, but the work is harder or not what they thought it would be. Sometimes, the hours are not what they want. Workers in 2020 are not only looking for more pay, but convenient hours, and easy work.
But, it’s just not locally; it’s all across this country. Some school districts are facing staff shortages, airlines are experiencing pilot shortages. It’s sort of like the “canary in the coal mine,” referring to what we will face in the future, as boomers retire, population growth slows, and training lags.
With job openings growing faster than the available workforce, businesses must become more creative in how they hire and train employees.
Our country’s strength was forged through blue-collar workers, who were not afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard to support their families and send their children to school. The COVID pandemic has taught us just how valuable laborers are to our way of life.
Facing unprecedented circumstances, workers adjusted. They wore masks and had their temperatures taken to enter the job site. They traded office meetings for Zoom calls. They balanced their children’s virtual learning with their own work-from-home responsibilities. They kept our economy alive when the future was anything but certain.
Many professionals have put their lives on the line to help us survive this virus. Health care workers, public safety employees and educators immediately come to mind, but they’re not alone when it comes to taking risks. The cashier at your neighborhood convenience store, the server at your favorite restaurant and the truck driver hauling commodities you need to survive have also taken chances.
At the same time, we’re seeing too many businesses closing due to a lack of workers. If they’re not closing their business, they’re closing early. Those who cannot find work should be helped, but we shouldn’t reward poor work habits with government subsidies.
Still, the issue isn’t quite as simple as merely exhorting unemployed workers to find a job.
Multiple reports have cited the lack of a skilled workforce as a major challenge for our state. Those same studies often find that wages are too low, and that state leaders should be more focused on attracting employees by fostering better pay and benefits instead of cutting taxes for employers.
We’re also behind on addressing obstacles like childcare and transportation. Those who can’t find a ride to work, or can’t afford to send children to daycare, are likely to drop out of the labor force. That’s a scenario that hurts all of us.
But the blood, sweat and tears that were shed to build and sustain this country weren’t sacrificed in the pursuit of complacency.
So in the midst of all the fun and frivolity this Labor Day weekend, let us not forget that there’s work still to be done.
We need to bolster job training programs and support education. We ought to ensure that anyone willing to put in the time and effort to succeed can earn a living wage.

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