Low unemployment and high demand put employers in the hot seat
Unemployment figures for March show Wyoming held steady at 5.9%, the same as February’s rate. The lowest rate in the country was a link between South Dakota and Nebraska, with an unemployment rate of 2.9%, Hawaii with the highest rate in the country, with 9% unemployed.
Year over year, employment in Wyoming is up 0.2% from March 2020.
But employers face another problem: more jobs available than applicants. According to figures from the US Department of Labor, the number of jobs opened in March – 8.12 million – was the highest in more than 20 years. There were 7.53 million job vacancies in February, according to the report. The national trend is true in Park County.
The problem could have several causes, according to economists. Increased demand for employees is emerging as states slowly reopen after 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. There is also a shortage of child care facilities – keeping parents out of the workforce – and a fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.
The $ 300 per week hike in federal unemployment benefits is also part of the consideration. Last week, Governor Mark Gordon said he would end the state’s participation in continuing aid, effective June 19. This cut, he said, will get people to work and help companies that are desperate for employees.
At the local level, business owners and managers are also feeling the pinch. There are several entries on social media pages every day looking for employees, but not everyone blames the shortage of help on the consequences of the pandemic and the increase in unemployment benefits.
Jerry Jackson, manager of the Ace Hardware store in Powell, said it has been difficult to fill store openings for nine years in its current location. He said his openings didn’t get many nominations and that some of those nominations were incomplete or illegible.
“You can barely read it or they don’t put a phone number so we can reach them, stuff like that,” Jackson said. The store has also heard various reasons why employees are leaving. They move, find a better paying job or no longer want to work.
Wyoming at Work, the state employment service, has nearly 600 jobs listed on this site for Park County and 7,186 applicants with resumes. However, these applicants can come from anywhere in the state or even other states. Other state data showed that 868 Park County residents were looking for work in March, the latest month for which figures are available.
The openings are largely in retail, sales and related jobs, cashiers, motels and hotels, office workers, bartenders and customer service representatives, as one would expect. in a community on the outskirts of America’s first national park. There are also a large number of openings in the healthcare, cooking and banking sectors.
Denise Wiegand, owner of Bubba’s Bar-B-Que in Cody, said the labor shortage in the restaurant industry was not new, but had worsened.
“There has been a labor shortage in the restaurant industries over the past three, four, five years,” she said. “This was exacerbated, however, by several factors.”
One of those factors is that employees decided to leave the industry during COVID. “They decided it was time for a change. It was high risk work, ”said Wiegand.
But there are also deeper underlying issues to getting good help.
Wiegand felt the extra unemployment benefits were too big a deal to cause the labor shortage. “It increased it a bit, but not as much,” she noted.
A bigger issue is the housing environment in Park County. The cost of housing in Park County has increased and residents cannot afford housing while they work in lower paying jobs.
“And workers between the ages of 17 and 22 aren’t working like they used to,” Wiegand said. “I do not know why.”
She said students may be living on their school loans, parents are more able to help them, or attend summer sports camps and can’t get around those camp schedules.
“Everyone wants to complain about the extra unemployment [payments] and that has been a factor, but there has been a problem for years, ”Wiegand said. “But this year, retail, fast food, everyone is experiencing an extreme shortage.”