HELP WANTED: States push jobless from virus recession to return to work

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Signs like these are popping up all over Natchitoches. Jobs are there for those who want them, but many are not showing up for work. Businesses are cutting back operating hours and even closing when there are not enough employees to operate. Photos by Hannah Richardson

AP | Juanice Gray contributed to this article

Fourteen months after COVID-19 put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, the U.S. economy is rebounding and employers are desperate for workers. The challenge was highlighted locally when Dollar Tree in Natchitoches posted a sign on their door stating they were closed due to lack of employees. Other businesses are pushing job fairs, are hiring on the spot and recruiting heavily while cutting back hours due to lack of personnel. Last Friday, businesses reported they couldn’t find people to fill the openings they have to keep up with the rapidly strengthening economic rebound.

CS&M Storage

To encourage people to return to work, more states are making it harder for people to stay on unemployment. Many blame the easy benefits that followed the pandemic, including what is now a $300 a week supplemental federal payment on top of state benefits. The argument is that people make more money staying home than going back to work. Several states have begun requiring those receiving unemployment benefits to show they are actively searching for work, and a few will stop providing the additional federal supplement. The restaurant sector, especially fast food and locally owned businesses, are especially hard hit nationwide.

This article published in the May 13, 2021, print edition

Charcriccia McElroy with Sonic on University Parkway in Natchitoches said they have cut back hours to closing at 7 p.m. Regular closing hour is 9 p.m. She said several factors are contributing to the problem of short staffing. “They are applying but not showing up. Some got hired but never showed up.”

McElroy said Tuesday that two new hires were on the job and seemed to “really want to work.” “These people are going to work out,” she said. “One person said they were being made to apply and they really didn’t want to work because they could make more at home on unemployment.”

The fact that people are applying and not showing up for work leads one to believe it is only an empty gesture aimed at meeting unemployment requirements.

Labor experts say the shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people also have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children. The details and the timing of the state-led efforts to get people back to work differ, but they are coming from states led by both States reinstating the work-search requirement include Vermont, Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Montana, South Carolina and Arkansas are planning to stop accepting the $300 benefit.

In announcing last week that beginning June 27 unemployed workers will no longer receive the $300 benefit, Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said it was “doing more harm than good.”

Rachel Mata, an area manager for a Fayetteville, N.C.-based staffing company, said it’s been increasingly difficult to find people for positions since the passage of the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill.

“We get candidates who will mention, ‘Hey, you know, why would I go to work when I get paid more on unemployment to sit at home?’” said Mata.

Louisiana Workforce Commission specialist/manager Barbara Leach said they are open again, but with limited capacity. “We are limited to five at a time and masks are required,” she said. “People are beginning to come in again.” The LWC is a division of the Dept. of Labor and offers job placement services for employers and employees alike. They offer WorkKeys skills assessments at no cost to the job seeker for those companies that require the assessments. They also offer resume assistance. They are located at 303 Bienville. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. Their website, laworks.net, offers online assistance for those needing to register for work, file an unemployment claim or file for weekly unemployment benefits.