The help wanted signs around Haywood are so ubiquitous they almost go unnoticed, and jobs are so plentiful employers are thinking outside the box to attract employees.
That includes holding job fairs, raising wages and offering signing bonuses.
Some often blame the lack of willing workers on the expanded unemployment benefits collected by those who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s an allegation not backed up by statistics, at least in Haywood.
Even if every single person receiving unemployment compensation in Haywood got a job, there would be 800 more jobs available than there are individuals to fill them.
As of Wednesday, May 12, there were 1,474 job openings listed in Haywood on the NC Works website. Yet, the number of Haywood individuals who filed unemployment claims in March 2021 totaled just 667, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
Of that number, 376 individuals filed initial unemployment claims during March, and 291 unemployment claims were continued from the previous month. All were entitled to state unemployment benefits ranging between $15 and $350 a week. To receive the added $300 weekly federal benefit, a job loss has to be categorized as COVID-related. In Haywood, that number was 403.
The number of Haywood residents receiving unemployment compensation is different than the total number of unemployed individuals listed in the county.
As of March 2021, that number was 1,281, only 100 more than before the COVID pandemic hit the nation a year ago.
Even if every single one of these individuals listed as unemployed found a job this week, there would still be more jobs than workers in Haywood.
Lisa Morris, manager of the Haywood County NCWorks Career Center, said a labor shortage is one that plagues employers across the region, state and nation.
NCWorks is a division of the N.C. Department of Commerce, and operates career centers in almost every county. There, job-seekers can find an array of services to find work. In addition to an extensive list of job openings that can be searched by employment category, targeted employers and job listings can be pulled up by county, region or state.
Career specialists help those seeking jobs with resume preparation, training, testing, interview skills and more. Still, in today’s economic climate, it is the job seekers who have the upper hand.
“Employers call me and really need people,” Morris said. “I feel like we’re disappointing them at this time. We’re available and do everything we can do to help local businesses.”
The difficulty finding workers had caused many employers to raise wages, Morris said, with some jobs between $2 and $4 an hour what they were last year. A lot of employers had to implement sign-on hiring bonuses. Before we didn’t have things like that.”
Another change, Morris said, is that employers are hiring candidates that may have a blemish on their employment record or who are dealing with other issues. For taking a chance, though, employers get special tax benefits — up to $9,600 in some cases.
“Employers are pursuing every avenue they can,” Morris said. “We have more jobs than people right now.”
When the pandemic first sent the economy reeling, the unemployment rate in Haywood hit nearly 10%. From March through July, the state offered a maximum unemployment benefit of $350 a week and the weekly federal benefit was $600 if a job loss was due to COVID. After July, the federal benefit decreased to $300.
The state’s weekly benefit is tied to wages. For instance, someone earning $15 an hour would have received about $277 a week from the state and whatever the federal offering was at the time, providing the job loss was COVID-related.
The maximum number of weeks state benefits are now available is 12, but should the unemployment rate increase, that could go up to 16 weeks.
During the height of the pandemic, a requirement that the unemployment claimant had to be actively seek work was waived. Morris said that changed back in March 2021 and now those receiving unemployment compensation must prove they have contacted potential employers or undergone acceptable employment training.
An email response from the N.C. Department of Commerce Labor & Economic Analysis Division confirmed North Carolina is experiencing a labor shortage, as is the rest of the United States.
State estimates indicate that the labor market in the Asheville Metropolitan service area has only 2.8 job seekers per job opening in February 2021, compared to 2.7 job seekers in February 2020, which was pre-pandemic.
“This arguably represents the most challenging hiring environment in a generation,” the email stated. “In the short-term, pandemic-related factors, such as concern about getting COVID and caring for children not in school or daycare, have kept many workers on the sidelines of our labor market. In the long-term, demographic factors, such as low birthrates and low rates of immigration, have resulted in slow growth in our labor force. While pandemic-related factors should resolve themselves over time as public health conditions improve, long-term demographic factors will likely limit labor supply and keep our labor market tight for the foreseeable future.”