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Where have all the workers gone…to better jobs everyone?

By: Keith Kappes
Columnist
Carter County Times

With apologies to songwriter Pete Seeger and folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary…I paraphrased the title of their anti-war song from 1962 to raise a question about the millions of unfilled jobs today in America. 

In “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, we were given the answers to the question in terms of young girls, young soldiers, and the ultimate tragedy of all warfare. But we don’t yet have answers to today’s mystery of the whereabouts of workers who haven’t returned to the work force. 

Some say they are waiting until the expiration of the federal extension of unemployment benefits because the combination of state and federal benefits is more than take-home pay from a job. 

Still others claim the stimulus checks already in hand plus the upcoming child tax credit payments give them more money for living expenses before they must find a job. 

Others say they are living on the money made from selling their homes in the overheated housing market or from buying and selling stock in the resurgence of the stock market. They won’t go back to work until that easy money is gone. 

Some couples say they found during the pandemic that they could get by on a single income by angling for a higher salary and by avoiding or reducing child care expenses, commuting costs, etc., or by moving to a smaller home, often in a suburban or rural setting with lower taxes and utility costs. 

We expected the biggest job impact to be in the hospitality sector with bars, restaurants, hotels, and amusement facilities reopening after the pandemic and calling back all of their furloughed workers. But that premise was shattered by fast food chains doubling their hourly pay rates, providing college scholarships and paying sign-on bonuses but still falling short. 

I am aware of a young woman who has never worked a day in her life or finished high school being hired at a manufacturing plant for $12 hourly starting as an assembly line trainee. 

Frankly, it was unnerving to see three major airlines listing pilots and airplane mechanics as their most critical staffing shortages. Try not to worry about the crew’s experience the next time you fly.

Or the fact that we have critical shortages of prison guards, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel. 

But my curiosity turned to real concern when I pulled into the KFC drive-thru and saw a sign saying the store was closing early because they couldn’t hire enough workers. 

That raised perhaps the most serious question of all…where is Colonel Sanders when we really need him?

Keith Kappes can be reached at keithkappes@gmail.com

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