The "Now Hiring" signs continue to be displayed on most businesses in the Laurel County area - some even displaying the starting pay ranging above $10 an hour. Still, there remains a shortage of workers.
It's a complete turn-around from when I moved back here 27 years ago. At that time numerous businesses were closing or had already closed. Workers were plentiful, jobs were few. Micro Devices, Griffin Pie, Westinghouse - three major employers in the area - closed their doors and sent their workers home. The Westinghouse building soon housed Highlands Diversified, and sometime after, Griffin Pie re-opened as Laurel Cookie Factory and now operates as Hearthside Food Solutions. The Micro building sat vacant for many years, but was useful when hundreds of cases of Girl Scout cookies arrived and were then sorted and picked up for the various troops in the community to distribute. Several years later, the building re-opened as General Dynamics, now operating as Maximus.
I recall the horrific challenge of finding a job during that time - I invested hundreds of hours combing the newspapers for job listings and a large chunk of money in stamps, mailing out resumes and cover letters. For the few that answered, it was a routine "Thank you for applying" and the routine decline.
Now there are more jobs than there are people willing to work. Which is understandable, considering that folks with kids are drawing a few hundred dollars extra a month, thus adding to the many who also have government benefits of free food, medical coverage and other benefits. Those who did work had to worry about child care and maintaining transportation to and from work - all that being eliminated and more money to boot!
Our government leaders talk about reviving the economy after COVID, and bringing in new jobs. But the existing businesses are begging for workers and creating more jobs will just enhance the dilemma that current businesses are facing.
We are well aware that the restaurants in the areas are suffering. Many have closed their doors on certain days or reduced their operating hours because they can't find people to work. Those who have remained open have had to hike their starting pay to entice people to apply for a job or offer bonuses to get enough employees to operate. The drive-thru's are backed up around the buildings more often than not - with slow service because there aren't enough workers to service the demand. Those with in-house service face the same situation and have to reduce operating hours to avoid utter exhaustion among the people who are still willing to work.
The long-term effect is higher prices for consumers who inevitably pay for the higher wages paid to restaurant employees through higher priced foods. The $5 lunch deals of 2020 and early 2021 are now $1 higher or more. Meat and dairy products have jumped up in costs at the grocery store. The arrival of Hurricane Ida has gas prices skyrocketing 40 cents or more per gallon since Monday.
The difficult part for those without dependent children or whose jobs have not offered raises is keeping up with the rising prices without putting themselves into financial distress. It is nearly impossible to live on or raise a family on minimum wage. But the higher wages for some mean higher prices for others who have managed to hang on through the pandemic but are now struggling to survive.
New jobs without a workforce is just as economically devastating as a workforce without jobs. Those who are able to work but thrive on government funds should be required to seek, find and keep a job. Then reward them for their positive contributions to society and the tax base.
It would certainly ease the pressure on the rest of us who have worked all our lives with much less pay and much lower prices.
Nita Johnson is a staff writer at The Sentinel-Echo. She can be contacted at email@example.com.