This column was submitted to LebTown. Read LebTown’s submission policy here.
Lebanon County, like many regions in Pennsylvania, is in the middle of an incredible shortage of employees. As of mid-April, there were 3,513 Lebanon County jobs listed as open and 2,509 reported on unemployment. That means that even if everyone on unemployment took a job, Lebanon County would still be short by 1,000 bodies.
The closures and restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic made a huge impact on revenues, but our lack of workforce will have much deeper consequences. The shortage of employees will affect our small and large businesses for many years, if they can remain open.
Companies not able to fill openings have had to shorten hours of operation, lower output, raise prices to accommodate overtime and other expenses, or even close their doors. Because this shortage affects smaller businesses like coffee shops and hair salons as well as larger employers with hundreds of openings, we will all feel the impact as time goes on.
County residents are on unemployment for reasons that may include the need to provide home-schooling, a lack of affordable childcare, transportation issues, health or other personal reasons. But for our residents without barriers, it is vital to keep our economy going or we will end up with a bigger problem when the pandemic is over.
Those who earned $15 or less before the pandemic are currently making the same or more staying on unemployment. So why should someone on unemployment return to work? Our employers are doing their best to keep production moving, doors open, and services available. But supplies are delayed, turnaround is slow, and those currently working are exhausted. Our community needs employees to keep our economy going and our small businesses available when you need them.
I recently saw a social media post where someone criticized a restaurant for not answering their phone when they wanted to place an order. They were short-staffed. If we can’t get employees to fill the demand, we will eventually limit our options. Our local entrepreneurs are struggling. Our manufacturers and distribution centers – who make and ship the products that we buy – are frustrated. We want jobs to stay in America, but we also need to commit to fill them.
This isn’t just an unemployment issue; this is the vitality of our local economy. Let’s get Lebanon County back to work.
Karen Groh is president & CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce.