The work is there, but the workers are not.
Ken Eck, manager at J & R Slaw Inc., a precast concrete manufacturer in Carbon County, said in 40 years, he’s never had as hard a time getting new employees as he is right now.
“My stress level, from 1 to 10, is at about a nine right now,” Eck said. “We’re way behind schedule. I really hate to put a number on the backlog, but it’s in the millions. For sure.”
It seems no matter the industry, the story is the same.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its March analysis, reported that the number of people leaving their jobs hit 2.3% of overall employment in January. That just missed hitting a record that dates back to 2001.
Republican Congressman Dan Meuser hosts a weekly call with small businesses across his district. Almost every business, he said, listed trouble getting employees as one of their top concerns.
So why is there such little desire for people to work? Many employers blame the extra $300 a week in jobless benefits approved by Congress earlier this year as part of the American Rescue Plan. Meuser, who voted against that plan, also sees the supplements as a part of the problem.
“When you factor in the extended free COBRA health insurance coverage, people are being paid almost as much not to work,” Meuser said. “In July, I said don’t extend the unemployment supplement. We have to get people back to work.”
Eck said J & R Slaw is offering between $15 and $22 per hour, but is still having trouble finding truck drivers, laborers, carpenters and more. At one time, the business had 130 employees. It now has around 100.
“People are calling me saying when can we get our product?” Eck said. “We’re trying to deal with it, but we should be producing way more than what we are. The younger generation wants the big bucks. The work ethic isn’t there.”
McDonald’s in Hometown, meanwhile, advertised $15 per hour positions.
Some local businesses, including the Hampton Inn in Lehighton, have gotten creative in their advertising.
“Handing out stimulus checks every 2 weeks at the Hampton Inn Lehighton (Jim Thorpe),” Lori Belletiere, hotel general manager, posted on Facebook. “Everyone is eligible. Message for details.”
Lang’s Landscaping in Palmerton has been fortunate enough to stay afloat through the entire pandemic, yet Jacqueline Lang said the company could use at least two or three more workers.
“We can’t take on as many projects as we would like right now,” Lang said. “People are calling. It’s getting nice outside and they want work done, but we’re having trouble, like everyone else, finding people to work. Customers don’t want me telling them they have to wait until July, but that’s about what it’s coming to right now.”
Lang’s has advertised in multiple publications, but the phone isn’t ringing.
“We’re hoping when school is done, we can get some high school and college workers as we have in the past,” Lang said. “Overall, it’s tough to compete with those unemployment bonuses though.”
While Meuser, who said he is exploring a run for governor in Pennsylvania, vehemently disagreed with the plan to extend unemployment supplemental payments, he added it’s not the only reason workers are hard to find.
“There are some people who still fear going back to work because of COVID-19,” Meuser said. “Add to that, school schedules have been all over the place between in-person and hybrid, so you have parents that rightfully so need to be there for their children.”
A National Federation of Independent Business indicated 42% of respondents said they had jobs they couldn’t fill. The average, since 1974, had been 22%. In addition, 91% of respondents said they had few or no qualified applicants for job openings this year. The unemployment rate in March came in at 6%, well above the 3.5% charted in February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic shut businesses down.
Things can turn around, but Meuser said it will come with a philosophical shift from the federal government.
“Let’s stop digging the hole,” he said. “Let’s not extend that September cutoff for the unemployment supplement. Let’s stop telling businesses, even small businesses, that their taxes will go up. Let’s stop telling businesses that the minimum wage will go up, even though many are offering that higher amount already.”
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau is organizing a regionwide, in-person job fair on May 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The job fair will be held at three locations including Blue Mountain Resort, for employment opportunities in Carbon County; The Inn at Woodloch, for employment opportunities in Pike/Wayne counties; and Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, for employment opportunities in Monroe County.
“We’re opening the job fair up beyond the hospitality and restaurant industries, because this is an issue everyone is facing,” said Alice Wanamaker, executive director of the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development Corp.
Advance registration is not required for job seekers. Carbon businesses that wish to participate can register at https://discovercarbonpa.chambermaster.com/eventregistration/register/11154. Monroe businesses can register at https://greaterpoconochamber.chambermaster.com/eventregistration/register/2233.
In addition, the PMVB has opened its job openings (https://www.poconomountains.com/about-pmvb/job-openings/) site to the public.
“Now is one of the best opportunities for those who are not working to take a job,” Meuser said. “Why wait until the job market is thin again? By not working, you’re not going to be any further along than you were six months ago. Build up that good will with employers by being one of the people who run toward a job now when so many are running away.”
FILE – In this Feb. 25, 2021, file photo, a pedestrian in a face covering walks past the sign plastered on the windows of a restaurant to announce that it is open after closure because of the coronavirus in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)