Searcy industries identified a hiring problem about two years before the pandemic made it an issue for other businesses, according to Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Buck Layne.
“It wasn’t the same reasoning, but it was the same problem for them,” Layne told the Searcy City Council on Tuesday night. “For them, the problem was finding people that were skilled.”
Since COVID-19 set in last year, forcing businesses to close or lay off employees and resulting in unemployment benefits being increased, the “trouble hiring people” has extended to “most businesses,” Layne said. “Searcy is no different.”
In response, Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services to end the state’s participation in the federal supplemental unemployment assistance after June 26. he said “the programs were implemented to assist the unemployed during the pandemic when businesses were laying off employees and jobs were scarce. As we emerge from COVID-19, retail and service companies, restaurants and industry are attempting to return to pre-pandemic unemployment levels but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago.”
“The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose,” Hutchinson said. “Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”
Nationally, employers added 559,000 jobs in May on top of 278,000 in April. Those numbers might ordinarily be seen as quite healthy, but against the backdrop of record-high job openings and free-spending consumers, forecasters had expected much more hiring. Some economists had envisioned the recovery from the pandemic recession driving monthly job growth of 800,000, 900,000, even 1 million or more.
Explaining the shortfall, economists point mainly to what they call “a short-term mismatch” Companies are posting job openings faster than applicants can respond. Many Americans are still contending with considerable tumult at home – health issues related to COVID-19, child-care problems with schools slow to reopen and career uncertainty after many jobs permanently vanished over the past 15 months. And some earning more from federal and state jobless aid that they did when they worked are taking their time before pursuing another job.
Some say the labor shortage is nothing that can’t be resolved by raising pay and offering more generous benefits and working conditions. In fact, the process seemed to have begun. Average hourly wages rose solidly in April and May.
In Searcy, Layne pointed to a job fair that the chamber held a few weeks ago with the Workforce Services office in Searcy at the White County Cooperative Extension Service building as a positive sign.
“We had 13 companies locally participate. That was the most that could participate because of social distancing out there,” Layne said. “We had 154 people come and apply for jobs.
“It was really a good program. Everybody that participated from those seeking jobs and those employers looking for employees were very pleased with that and asked us to do it again and we intend to do so.”