By Richard Sullins | email@example.com
I switched pharmacies last month. My previous drug store, which had always been accessible seven days a week, is now open only for only four and I need to be able to count on them being there. Four days a week doesn’t cut it.
It’s become hard for them to find a second pharmacist to provide relief for the one who has been on primary duty there since I came to Sanford. In fact, 30 different pharmacist positions in the Sanford area were being advertised in late December on Indeed.com. And it’s part of a trend that is impacting more than just pharmacies, and more than just Sanford.
You’ve probably experienced it recently in checkout lines. You’ve likely felt it just walking into your favorite restaurant during the past few months. Or maybe there has been a sign on the front door, warning you to expect delays in service because of a shortage of workers.
But these workers, where are they?
There exists a belief among some that the labor shortage that’s taking place nationwide can be traced back directly to the generous unemployment benefits that were contained in the economic stimulus relief package that followed the arrival of the COVID pandemic last year. This theory says that most people who lost their jobs when the pandemic arrived chose to stay home because they could bring in more money from their unemployment checks than they could from their paychecks.
While that way of thinking might ring true for some, it turns out that there is a deeper explanation that provides a broader truth: lots of employees were already fed up with working conditions before the pandemic arrived and when it hit, it was all the push they needed to move on.
Return to employment didn’t happen
The men’s group from my church meets twice a month for breakfast at a local restaurant. On the entrance door, a posted sign reads “please be patient. We are short staffed due to stimulus money. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
If the temporary unemployment benefits funded by the COVID stimulus bill were responsible for workers choosing to stay home and draw their benefits instead of going to work, those same employees should have returned to work after the benefits ended on September 4. But according to the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, they didn’t.
You’ve seen them across the city — signs that promise starting wages that were simply unheard of just 6 months ago. It’s become easy to spot signage at fast-food restaurants offering hourly rates of up to $15 or more, and some with sign-on bonuses, like poultry production, retail and automotive sales, and health care facilities looking for CNAs and RNs.
By the end of April 2020, six weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state, the state’s unemployment rate had reached 15 percent, a level that was high but still lower than the record of 16.2 percent reached in April 2009 during the Great Recession. Like air slowly leaking from a balloon, the jobless rate continued to slowly drop through the pandemic, even through the most recent COVID surges of last winter and this summer. As of this September, the latest month for which current numbers are available, the rate stood at 4.3 percent. In September of last year, it was 8 percent.
The raw numbers of people without jobs also indicate that large sums of people dropped off the unemployment rolls instead of remaining on them. In September 2020, 2,070 persons were drawing unemployment checks within Lee County. One year later, that number had dropped to 1,125 — a decrease of 945 persons or 45.6 percent.
Even more important than the number of persons out of work is the growth in the county’s labor force, which increased by 1,161 persons in the 12 months between September 2020 and 2021. The labor force is defined as the number of persons 16 years and older who are either working or looking for work and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces or inmates of institutions such as penal or mental facilities.
Those numbers tell us that the number of persons receiving unemployment compensation continued to decrease during the pandemic while the number of people either working or looking for work continued to increase.
So again, where are they? What is to account for the labor shortage in Sanford and beyond?
‘A nation of quitters’
The search for what happened to workers in the service sector of the economy begins and ends with the search for better pay and benefits. And no better example exists for what is happening to the economy than a look at the food service industry.
The work there is grueling. The hours are long and fast-paced, but they can also be rewarding. When COVID came 21 months ago, it was like lightning bolts coming from a cloud. One former Sanford restaurant worker interviewed for this story, who wished to remain anonymous, says that “when the virus suddenly came here, it was like there was a general and unorganized strike that came out of nowhere.”
When the first wave of COVID benefits arrived a few weeks later, food service workers found that for the first time in their lives, many were making enough through benefits to begin saving. This worker said, “I couldn’t remember taking a break that was longer than just using the bathroom, or sitting down to eat a meal, and I never had health insurance.”
When the reality hit that he now had those things, this man realized that after 20 years of working six days a week in a local restaurant, he had worked his last kitchen job. His employer had kept his wages low, didn’t provide benefits, and was constantly changing work schedules. And he’s not the only one.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that each month since March, about 5 percent of the huge numbers of people who make up this sector of the workforce walked away from their jobs each month. That has left over a million jobs vacant in the food service industry at a time when customers have been streaming through the doors to eat, drink, and socialize as the pandemic began to ease.
It’s known in labor circles as ‘The Great Resignation.’ The latest BLS report says that 4.2 million American workers quit their jobs in October. That’s an incredible amount of people who are either fed up with their old job or looking for a new one. CNBC reported last month that 28 million people have quit their jobs during the last 7 months and a recent article in Forbes magazine says that we have become ‘a nation of quitters.’
The BLS report also says that there were 11.1 million job openings in that same month, 40 percent more than before the pandemic. Many of them in the leisure and hospitality industry, particularly in food services and hotels, showed the largest increases.
But restaurants that used to be open until 10 or 11 p.m. don’t do that anymore.
The staff they employ are exhausted. Some are now closed one or more days a week when they used to be open seven. Many are paying bonuses and hourly rates unheard of in the industry, but potential workers do not apply.
In a recent survey reported by NPR, more than half of a nationwide survey group who quit their jobs recently said that no amount of money could get them to go back. For many, the decision to leave food services was all about the culture — low wages, no benefits, long hours, constantly changing schedules, and so many rude customers.
‘I was done with fast-food.’
Rashawn Thompson worked at a Sanford fast-food restaurant for 13 months until July, when a customer stopped his car in the drive-thru and came storming inside to threaten him over the amount of cream and sugar in his coffee. Thompson left that afternoon for a job delivering beverages to restaurants. It’s tougher but quieter work, and better paying.
“After that happened, I was done with fast-food,” he said. “I’m never going back there again.”
It wasn’t just that one incident that one incident that made Rashawn decide to walk away. But it was the moment that pushed him over the edge.
“For months, it seemed like every hour or so at work, I would have to go up front and be forced to argue with somebody who was making an issue because they didn’t want to wear a mask inside the restaurant,” he said. “I don’t know what’s got into people. But I was done.”
John Dean, Economic Development Manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance (SAGA), said in an August article published by the organization that “as the pandemic life took hold of the U.S., many people began rethinking their own values and priorities. Many of these people, especially in the service sector, lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic, leading to angst and uncertainty of the future.”
“Others who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs were forced to work remotely, while a significant portion of employees, considered essential, found themselves in higher-stress situations than before,” he continued. “This abrupt change in employment, according to analysts, has led more people than ever before to voluntarily leave their jobs.”
Where did they go? National Public Radio reported in a story broadcast on June 24 that many of them went “in search of more money, more flexibility and more happiness. Many are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued, and how they spend their time.”
Life after the kitchen
During the weeks when workers were furloughed because of the pandemic, many discovered for the first-time what family life could be like if they weren’t putting in 50 to 60 hours a week in a restaurant. They got to see the faces of their children when they opened the presents they had spent six hours or more assembling. They were able to attend church services and family picnics. They saw sunsets.
So, when many of them were called back to work, even after their unemployment checks had stopped, they quit. For the first time, many had accumulated enough savings to last for a few weeks and they decided to look for something they would be happier doing.
There are many reasons that people are quitting and looking for jobs elsewhere. Some had been frustrated with their jobs before the pandemic and took advantage of the opportunity to re-examine their lives that COVID relief benefits brought. Some quit because they could make more money elsewhere. And others left because they realized that their priorities had changed.
Workers are now deciding where, when, and how they want to work. For younger workers, that could mean entire careers that look nothing like they did years ago.
Some workers, for example, are giving up the 45-minute one-way commute to Raleigh and the cars they would have to buy to get there. They are looking for jobs they can work from home.
The pandemic has changed life as we know it. There is talk of a ‘new normal,’ whatever that may look like. But one thing is for certain: it has changed the mindsets of workers, particularly the younger ones. They value their time in ways they didn’t before. There are bills still to be paid. But there is also life to be enjoyed. And they don’t want to miss that opportunity.
Impacts on new industries
Over the past three years, Lee County has racked up a record of success at recruiting new industry that is the envy of almost every other county in the country. The Central Carolina Enterprise Park, a 750-acre site situated at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Colon Road, is as busy these days as any hill of fire ants you can find in Lee County.
With buildings averaging 117,000 square feet in area and center ceiling heights reaching 29 feet, the park has quickly filled with industries ranging from life sciences to recycled rubber products. But are local leaders concerned about finding workers to fill the thousands of jobs that these companies will create?
Jimmy Randolph, SAGA’s Chief Executive Officer, thinks many of the same advantages that brought those industries to Sanford will help ensure that they are able to find and keep a good supply of trained workers. In an interview this fall with The Rant, Randolph said “you know, Lee County is not alone in what’s happening with the ‘Great Resignation.’ But we do have some advantages that, I believe, will help keep things moving in the right direction.”
“We’ve worked really hard to create a public-private partnership here that works both ways, with employers providing the jobs and incentives, and Central Carolina Community College and our nearby universities and Lee County Schools providing the training that makes those employees more valuable to these companies,” he continued. “These recent announcements are also going to attract other people to our community, and they are going to strengthen the fabric of what has been built here over generations. The Triangle is just 40 minutes away for those who like to have an evening out, and those folks can return home to the slower pace of life that makes Sanford so attractive. Put all of these things together and you have the secret sauce that can help us to retain workers and pay them a great living wage in ways that other rural areas can’t do. And if we can do that, things are going to keep growing here, with our industries and our service sector. I’m sure of that.”
Pay very close attention to what is happening and how businesses are adjusting. There is a false sense of importance being put on low skilled workers and many are believing it. Understand very clearly, companies, businesses, restaurants etc. are not established to make their employees rich, they are established to make a profit. No business was ever created to do or give away anything free, they were created to generate wealth for the person brave enough to start the business. When the workforce over values its worth, they will be replaced with other ways or the business will just close up. Go to Wal-Mart and see. You may not realize it because they are posting job offers for $15 and hour or sign on bonuses. They have reduced their workforce greatly, over half of their checkout lanes that had a cashier at each lane are now completely automated and has one cashier monitoring 10 lanes to provide assistance to the customers. They have gone from 10 cashiers to one. Do the customers get a discount for scanning and bagging their own groceries? NOPE. Wal-Mart has done what many companies are doing, they have reduced the need for a larger workforce by making their processes more efficient and having customers fill the gap. By doing this, they have increased their profits and are able to pay their employees more. If you look at their numbers they are making more money than before but everyone thinks things are better. It isn’t better just different and anyone that thinks differently is fooling themselves. This is starting in every industry. McDonalds no longer has 4 or 5 cashiers saying welcome to McDonalds, they have one and you place your order on a kiosk and pay with your card. they are developing new technologies to reduce the need for labor, increase efficiency, increase profits, and the few employees they do have will get better pay and benefits. I have warned several teachers I know, to be very careful how much they push for school closings and remote learning, they are opening a Pandora’s box for people to realize the need for a larger teaching force can be reduced through automation thereby reducing the number of teachers needed and reducing the taxpayer burden for paying thousands of teachers when you only need hundreds. This pandemic has shown companies many creative ways to reduce overhead. The need for large office buildings is no longer a requirement, they can get you to work from home instead of providing you a workspace in a building, yes you will make more money but they are making even more because all of the financial requirements of running a building for you to work in is no longer there. Heed my warning if people push too hard for things they think they are entitled to or think they want, because they will find that in the end there will be nothing for them. The days of needing hundreds of employees is going away and automation is the future. The question is, will you be part of the future, or the past? People need to be remember that they can always be replaced either by another employee or now a fully automated kiosk. There is a reason there is the old saying of, “Be careful what you wish for”.
This is called the luddite fallacy and it’s been around for a long time.
That doesn’t negate the future. I am intimately familiar with how to facilitate the implementation of technology to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenue. That is what I do, I go into companies and evaluate their workforce, systems, and processes and provide them with technological solutions to make all levels of their operations more efficient and reduce costs. I facilitate the future for companies and they pay a great deal of money for those solutions. I am not worried about me and those like me, we bring the future to companies with AI learning systems and ERP systems that manage all aspects of a company. I provide solutions to companies to reduce the most expensive aspect of business, labor. So you can reference the Luddite Fallacy as a counter argument to try and negate what I am telling you what is happening that is fine. Just know you were told and chose to play intellectual chess with someone who knows.
About that remote learning thing. Talk to the students who miss the socialization. Psychiatrists make more than teachers.
Back around 2000 I had people working from home. Sometimes on a farm where chores had to be done around animal’s needs. Other times it wasn’t just a single worker to a room but two who lived close and saved an hour commuting. Productive, heck yes. I asked them to work from home when there was a critical project. But not all jobs can be done from home.
Patience and kind words for the essential folks.
I think we are on the leading edge of a culture change. The pandemic opened the eyes of a workforce that had been trudging to and from jobs that they were being economically forced to do. It turns out that our minimum wage workers, defined above as “Low skill workers”, ARE actually more important than previously thought. They have proven that they are worth way more than the $7.25 minimum wage. For years, they have been begging for a decent wage. Their betters always said something along the lines of “If you don’t like the pay, get a better job.” Now these same people are complaining that they have done exactly that.
I believe there are multiple factors at play here. Low pay, no/poor benefits, bad working conditions, employers who are not flexible to employee needs, and some customers who are, let’s face it, self-centered assholes. Some people figured out that it was better for their families if one parent stayed home, instead of working. especially if they made less than $15.00/hour.
I will agree that companies are created to make a profit. Some companies could do a better job with employee compensation, but they are now learning that. I disagree that technologies will result in fewer jobs. They will reduce certain jobs, but create 2 more for every one that is eliminated on average. It’s the continuing move away from manual labor.
A recent article from Forbes noted that nearly 30% of working Americans are self-employed. That number is partly driven by people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, so started working for themselves. As those lost jobs opened up again, many former employees did not return because they liked working for themselves. That meant people could move into those jobs from other work sectors. It was a domino effect that left the minimum wage jobs lacking in what they can offer prospective employees. It is waking up those employers who held the false belief that they are entitled to cheap employees.
Employees are sick of CEOs getting filthy rich on their backs at slave wages. Just look at the numbers “CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978
Typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time”. People are fed up with that inequity. It’s gross. You can write all the long paragraphs you want, this is the bottom line.
It’s ok. When you learn macro and micro-economics, you will figure out your grand idea doesn’t have the end result you think it will.
Hahahahaha! Ok. Whatever. Like I said, that is the bottom line. You can wax poetic all you want about that bullshit.
I’m a Democrat but I don’t know where D.Roberts is incorrect. Luddites, Austrians, and their progeny the Libertarians all approach economics from the idea that the individual superman is the end all be all in the economy and society.
Individuals take risk with capital and because the take a risk, they are rewarded much more so than any wage person or a subsistence farmer.
The failure in the current system is the governments failure to tax and set policy for the negative externalities created by wealth differentials that society can not sustain. However no support system can fully support a lazy person or an ignorant person or a person without opportunity in the manner they would like.
I’ve noticed a ton of people who could retire have retired – baby boomers. I have also noticed people with once marginal jobs at McDonalds that have found at home or online niches that they can keep off the books and provides the same net or more they were used to.
The pandemic caused people who had not taken stock to actually examine the cost of going to work, transportation, gas, insurance, clothing, etc., etc. If you only net a dollar or two an hour you probably are not going to leave your home to work unless your work is actually a volunteering or social thing for you.
As a retired person from medical administration told me recently “I need $30 an hour to go somewhere and work and that’s getting there no early than 10AM. If they want me at 8:00 it will take $50 and if I have to do that more than twice a week I might as well still be working”.
To mike’s point, I agree we are in a transition to a more European style economy. The US used to be a low tax, low service, low price economy. It’s moving to high service, higher tax, and higher price as it is in most of Europe.
You make the equivalent of 80K a year, but taxes take more than half, but your healthcare is otherwise free and you don’t have to worry about it or the cost of university education for the most part. In return a McDonald burger that costs $5.00 here, host $9.00 there.
Many people don’t understand why people like Jeff Bezos are so rich. They think he is profiting off of the backs of his slave wages workforce. They ignore the fact that had Jeff Bezos not risked not only every dollar he had and his parents money who loaned him the money, NONE of them would even have jobs to complain about. He risked his entire economic future and literally worked out of his garage to create the Economic powerhouse we know as Amazon. He created all of those jobs. Yes he reaps huge economic benefits because he risked economic devastation. Tell me which one of his employees risked their economic futures to create Amazon? More importantly tell me where all of those employees will be if Amazon goes bankrupt because Bezos makes poor financial decisions? They will just look for another Job and then complain about how that company doesn’t pay them enough, all while never actually risking anything except their time. These are the same people that think Amazon pays no taxes, they don’t understand how much a company like Amazon pays in taxes every quarter just so you can work there, it’s called payroll tax. You can even go to the CBO website and see the projected impacts of a major minimum wage increase. Yes the employees that keep their jobs will see marginal improvement however there will be millions of jobs lost and 100’s of thousands of small businesses will close up. Eventually the market will adjust and return to market equilibrium however it won’t be the utopia many think it will be. People need to research the effects on economy, markets, and employment when governments establish floors and ceilings in the economy.
Well as people are finding out it doesn’t make a damn how much you “risk”, you can’t get any “rewards” without the people that do the work. The end.
Here is a good article to point out some of what I am talking about. Your income inequality observations can be attributed to AI and not so much those horrible CEO’s. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/06/18/artificial-intelligence-has-caused–50-to-70-decrease-in-wages-creating-income-inequality-and-threatening-millions-of-jobs/
You clearly don’t understand. Screaming “UNFAIR” will not change how economies and businesses work. May I suggest you actually try and start a business and see how difficult it really is and see how it really works. It is easy to point fingers without actually knowing.
I don’t think anyone will argue that starting a business is a risky venture, and having success should be rewarded. I think the ever-widening pay gap between the “Boss” and the “Worker” is unreasonable. That said, I think the culprit is really our tax laws. I believe that companies should be required to pay higher taxes. What that number is, I don’t know. I do know that if a company is making enough money to pay the higher-ups over $1 million per year, they can do a bigger part in supporting society, thus lowering the burden on the middle class. I’d be willing to bet that if someone had told Jeff Bezos that he would be worth $60 billion when he started his company, if he promised to split all the extra among his employees, he would have said “where do I sign?”. He is worth more than 3x that today.
That article is interesting in that it supports a couple of cases that some economists have been making for years now. That is that minimum wage should be tied to productivity. When the minimum wage act was first enacted in 1938, it (minimum wage) kept pace with productivity for the first 30 years. The minimum wage started losing ground in 1968, and has just gotten worse over time. Had it kept up, the MW would be roughly $24.00/hour now.
It also does make the case for the Universal Basic Income that former presidential candidate Andrew Yang was promoting. Essentially, as automation takes jobs from living, breathing people, companies are required to make up that lost income (saved money for the company) to displaced workers. I’m dumbing it down greatly. The more this discussion goes on, the more I think that is the direction we should be going. Instead of taxes, companies pay into a fund based on company productivity. All citizens get a monthly stipend from that fund to help deter the costs of our taxes.
Um, I do own a small business and have since 2010. Still feel the same way. I think it’s YOU who doesn’t understand.
well dont blog post, here’s another thing to think about. all the companies hoping to hire the right person or any person, are actually hoping to hire the people that used to work for them, there are people looking and applying for work , but are not getting calls to come in for a interview, Why, what i just said……. so this goes along with “where are the workers ?” …….