FOLSOM, Calif .– The Hampton Inn in Folsom, Calif. Has 147 rooms, but general manager Enid Baldock was only able to rent 117 recently because she didn’t have enough staff to clean them.
“I was turning people down with 30 (available) rooms. Ridiculous,” she said as she stuffed sheets into a laundry chute to help our skeletal housekeeping staff.
At the Palladio, a nearby shopping center with 85 stores and restaurants just off a busy highway, businesses seemed more concerned with attracting workers than customers, as “hire now” signs outnumbered the flyers. Black Friday. Mac, a cosmetics retailer, advertised a bonus of $ 1,500 for anyone who would agree to work full time.
Companies struggled through the Great Recession over a decade ago with minimal staff, as weak demand forced them to lay off workers. But the opposite is playing out in the pandemic, this time with a lot of demand but fewer workers ready to return following government-imposed lockdowns.
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Experts point to a number of factors, including the high cost of child care, more generous government benefits and lifestyle changes that have made workers less willing to accept the wages and terms of their old jobs. This raised wages in some retail and restaurant jobs, but not enough to close the gap.
“It changes people’s behavior the longer COVID persists,” said Roy Kim, deputy director of workforce development at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. “The longer people can survive and make adjustments that way, it changes their lives.”
The labor shortage has surprisingly played out across California, the most populous state in the country with nearly 40 million people which, if it was an independent country, would have the fifth largest economy in the world.
Folsom, an affluent suburb of Sacramento, has a mix of large retailers that cater to upper-middle-class consumers and local restaurants and stores that line a traditional downtown corridor to create a warm atmosphere for a city whose roots go back to the Gold Rush.
The city is teeming with young tech workers for companies like Intel, Micron, and PowerSchool. Many of those workers have switched to working from home during the pandemic, keeping their jobs and paying taxes that have contributed to the state’s record budget surpluses.
Sarah Aquino, the city’s deputy mayor, had focused on telling residents to spend money on local businesses. But now she’s telling them to take part-time jobs at their favorite companies, showing up on local TV comparing them to Uncle Sam’s WWI recruiting posters and the “Rosie the Riveter” icon. depicting women who went to work during WWII.
For her part, Aquino – an insurance broker with a flexible schedule – accepted a part-time job as a hostess at Back Bistro, a restaurant offering casual New American / California cuisine at the Palladio shopping complex. She takes reservations, seats people, cleans tables and folds towels while earning minimum wage – which in California is $ 14 an hour and rising.
Aquino is careful not to call it “volunteering” because she is paid. But she now considers it her civic duty to cover four shifts a week to help one of her favorite restaurants stay open.
“Of course, it’s not something like, you know, asking people to fight in a war,” Aquino said, responding to some social media criticism. “But (it’s) the idea that you’re doing it for someone more than yourself.”
Folsom derives about a third of its revenue from sales taxes, and Aquino said the city suffered a $ 3 million hit during the pandemic when many businesses were closed. Aquino feared the city would suffer more if businesses had to cut their hours due to a lack of manpower, a fear that manifested when she couldn’t buy her husband a burger at a fast. -food which had to close at 2 pm due to a lack of employees.
California has created an average of about 100,000 new jobs each month since February, but despite this breakneck pace, the state is still tied with Nevada for the highest unemployment rate in the country.
The state lost 2.7 million jobs in March and April 2020 after Governor Gavin Newsom issued the first statewide stay-at-home order. Since then, California has regained about 1.8 million of those jobs, or just over 67%.
“We’re talking about job recovery here, not growth,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, a group made up of business executives from the state’s major employers.
In September, California had more than 400,000 job openings, a 50% increase from the same month in 2019 before the pandemic. That’s why major employers in the state believe California’s labor market is unlikely to hit pre-pandemic levels until late 2023.
It’s a long time to wait for people like Kerri Howell, a member of Folsom’s city council who is an engineer by training but opened a restaurant last summer during the height of the pandemic. Howell said she didn’t think the pandemic would last that long or that it would be so difficult to hire employees. She says they have six workers, but they need at least four more.
“The chef and I are partners and we are here pretty much every opening hour of the restaurant, unless I have to go to a city council meeting,” she said. “The workplace for just about everyone has changed dramatically.”