Two years ago, if you had asked business owners in the tri-state area about the biggest issue facing their industries, the answer likely would have been universal: workforce.
At that time, economic development folks, community leaders and educators all were working on various fronts to try to address a critical shortage of workers.
Then, 2020 happened, and the No. 1 challenge immediately flipped to COVID-19. Unemployment skyrocketed, and businesses wondered if they would ever fully recover.
Now, on the road to economic recovery and post-pandemic life — but not yet out of the woods — the problem hanging over business again comes down to workforce. This time, it isn’t just manufacturers looking for skilled laborers who are coming up short. All over the tri-states, businesses are clamoring for help including wait staff, sales clerks, lifeguards, fast-food workers and clerical help.
Owners of Town Clock Inn, a pizza staple in downtown Dubuque, were forced to close their physical location in favor of a food truck because they just aren’t able to hire help.
Dubuque’s Leisure Services Department announced that while the city’s two public pools will open this summer, only one at a time will operate at full capacity because of a shortage of workers.
Millennium Bar & Marina in East Dubuque, Ill., shared in a social media post some of the challenges it faces, including higher food costs brought about by the worker shortage.
Throughout the pandemic, tri-state-area residents tried to patronize local businesses and help keep stores, bars and restaurants afloat with their support. Although restrictions are lifting and more people are getting out and about, those same businesses still need your support. And your patience.
Perhaps you have noticed longer-than-normal lines at stores and at fast-food restaurants. Perhaps you have been to a restaurant and witnessed harried wait staff trying to cover a large area. Maybe your store has raised its prices or is out of stock of some items.
Here’s where you can help: Be patient. Be kind. Be understanding. Local businesses are striving to maintain the same quality and customer service as always. But a lack of workforce impacts their livelihood from the business floor to the supply chain that provides their stock. These challenges come on the heels of what for many was the worst year ever.
Now more than ever, we need to keep supporting local businesses.
Some businesses point to the beefed-up unemployment benefits that the federal government is providing as a contributing factor. Economists estimate that for anyone making less than $32,000 per year (about $15.40 per hour of full-time work), sitting out of the job market and collecting unemployment right now could result in that person receiving more money. That could be keeping as many as 1 million workers out of the market. That prompted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this past week to call for an immediate halt to the extra payments to help boost employment numbers.
Others argue that if businesses paid higher wages, workers might be compelled to forgo the weekly unemployment bump for the prospect of a decent job. There’s likely some truth to both perspectives. As it stands, the additional unemployment benefit is scheduled to continue into September, so the status quo is likely to wear on throughout the summer.
Tri-state residents ready to get out and enjoy a local restaurant or attraction or do some shopping should go with the right mindset. Take a minute to remember last summer, when there were few options available and we longed to be out in a bustling business.
If the food takes a little longer to get to the table, be patient and recall that it’s a whole lot better than the situation we were in last year.