Olive Hill mayor Jerry Callihan said the city may not be able to open their pool, or the attached splash pad, this year because they can’t find lifeguards. Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup County have announced they are delaying their pool this year, reportedly for similar reasons. Carter Caves will have their pool open, but the park is still looking for employees in various departments.
Carter County has a labor shortage. And not just Carter County, across the state and nation employers are finding it harder to coax workers back into the job market.
Some of them have moved on to better paying jobs or gigs during the pandemic, or have taken more flexible jobs that allow them to work from home. Others, however, laid off or furloughed from jobs that haven’t called them back yet and still eligible for unemployment, are continuing to draw unemployment instead of applying for the various service industry jobs that are looking to hire.
It’s no real secret why. Service industry jobs, like fast food work, generally have low pay alongside fast-paced, physical labor. It’s not throwing hay bales every day physical labor, but it’s eight hours on your feet, bent over a griddle, mopping floors, emptying garbage. It’s demanding customers and odd hours. It’s hard work.
And though the popular notion of some is that it’s a “kid’s first job” and not a career, the truth is that a lot of adults work full time in fast food. Or they work it as a second job when their day job doesn’t pay enough. Fast food workers are mothers who have a family to feed. They are fathers in recovery looking to make an honest living and set a better example for their kids. They are retirees without pensions, or folks who could never afford to retire. And, yes, they are kids, just starting in the workforce and looking for some extra pocket money.
They all deserve to make a fair wage. If they work a 40 hour week, they should be able to pay their bills, feed their families and put some money back for their future.
This shouldn’t be controversial. If you want to work full time, and earn an honest living providing a service, you should be able to do that. Especially in a field where demand is so high we’re experiencing a labor shortage.
We’re not necessarily advocating for an increase of the minimum wage to $15 for all businesses, but we would encourage businesses who can afford to do so to increase pay. While there are arguments that increased pay simply leads to increased costs, and inflation – arguments that are not without merit – we hold with our assertion that everyone who works full time deserves to earn a livable wage. If the problem is an inflation problem instead of a wage stagnation problem, that is an issue that our state and federal governments need to make a priority.
Regardless of whether wages are increased or not, folks will eventually have to return to work or lose benefits. Kentucky is already requiring those drawing unemployment benefits to begin submitting work searches, something that had been suspended during the pandemic.
But there is something else that states like Kentucky could look at doing to encourage folks to return to the workforce. Instead of completely eliminating the $300 federal unemployment bonus as some other states have done, in an attempt to force people back into jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet, Kentucky should lead the way in advocating for maintaining the federal benefits for those who return to the workforce, and begin drawing a paycheck instead of unemployment, for as long as the federal funding remains available.
Work ethic aside, you can’t expect most folks to go do a difficult and demanding job for less money than they can get sitting at home and waiting out the end of the benefits. Even if they want to, some can’t afford to. They need the extra money. So, let’s do something to help those who are willing to help themselves. Let’s reward those people who are doing these jobs that make our lives easier. Let’s give the extra money to those who are willing to work, instead of financially penalizing them for going back to work. Let’s give them the opportunity to support their kids. Maybe then they’ll go back to work. Maybe then we can find some lifeguards, to open the pools, so those hardworking parents will have somewhere to take their kids on their day off.
Let’s support our workers.