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Jobs report sparks conversation about labor shortage

May2021unemployment.jpg
Bureau of Labor Statistics
The unemployment rate for May was 5.8%, down from a high of 14.8% in April 2020

 

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report. Liz Schmitt, an economics professor at SUNY Oswego, said if she could describe it in one word she’d say it's “vexing.”

Schmitt said while there was some job growth -- in fact there were nearly 560,000 new jobs added in May -- that’s not as much as experts wanted or expected. 

The report has caused a “glass half full or half empty” dichotomy across the country. On the one hand, any job growth is good news. On the other, it’s not the boom everyone was hoping for. 

“So Biden's supporters have something they can tout, and Biden's detractors probably have something they can tout in the jobs report,” said Schmitt. However, this conversation isn’t exclusive to Capitol Hill. Even with the addition of more jobs, the staffing shortage is persisting across the country and in central New York. 

Wolak Group owns over 95 Dunkin' stores, most of which are in New York state. As of June 4, they had 251 job openings according to their site. 

Their Franchisee Business Partner, Tom Santurri, attributed some of their struggle to hire to the extended unemployment benefits. 

“The average person could stay home and make pretty much the same amount they would work 40 hours a week or stay home and not go to work,” said Santurri. 

In fact, with the addition of the $300 of federal unemployment assistance, there is about a $10 difference in gross pay between working full time for Wolak and collecting unemployment based on that wage. 

However, Schmitt said, while unemployment plays a factor, most places just aren’t paying enough.

“If you have a shortage of something, it's because the price is too low,” she said. “So, if you have a shortage of labor, maybe you should consider paying them more”

Right now in Syracuse, Dunkin’s starting wage for a crew member is $15.50 an hour. That’s about $32,000 a year, which is about $19,000 over the federal poverty line for a single person.

So then why else would places like Wolak be struggling so much to hire? Schmitt said childcare is a large contributor to people’s hesitancy to return to in-person work.

“Women who are going to earn mid- to lower wages are more likely to use informal childcare arrangements, family and household childcare, in-home childcare,” she said. “And those haven't really recovered since the beginning of the pandemic, and that is keeping women out of the labor force.”

Santurri speculated that the in-person nature of quick service jobs is a big deterrent since in-person work requires childcare, transportation, gas and parking money, and the additional commute time. So he’s not surprised that people would opt for equal-paying at-home options. 

Now, with so many businesses in a similar situation to Wolak, Santurri said it’s a supply and demand issue. 

“Everyone's looking for help,” he said. “So there's a shortage–there's an excessive amount of jobs out there and everyone's trying to fill them.”

He compared it to the housing market -- the less houses for sale, the more valuable a commodity they become and the more people pay for them. Similarly, the less people looking for work, the more companies will have to offer.

So what is the solution to this continued labor shortage?

“That's, that's the 100 million dollar question,” Santurri said.