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Top 2021 Stories - No. 6: Help wanted

In August, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported parts of Minnesota were in the worst drought category for exceptional drought for the first time since the monitor began in 1994.

HelpWanted.jpg
Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

Perhaps the most common sign on display in 2021 — in windows, on flags and dynamic signs — came with two words: Now hiring.

A labor shortage with millions of baby boomers retiring each year was long forecast before anyone heard of COVID-19. The pandemic increased those numbers and added to them.

The Pew Research Center reported in the third quarter of 2020, about 28.6 million baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — were out of the labor force due to retirement, representing 3.2 million more boomers than the 25.4 million who retired in the same quarter of 2019.


In looking to help explain the labor shortage, Business Insider also noted people were looking for better pay, more flexibility, were retiring early, were starting their own businesses with more self-employed workers now than before the pandemic, were still concerned about the virus, and were unable to return to the labor force without adequate child care.


The pandemic, with business closures at the beginning in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, also put people on the sidelines. As the economy came back, not all those workers returned to those jobs for a host of reasons. The pandemic caused a mass reevaluation. Business Insider noted an Indeed survey finding people deciding life was too short to stay in jobs they weren’t passionate about.

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In looking to help explain the labor shortage, Business Insider also noted people were looking for better pay, more flexibility, were retiring early, were starting their own businesses with more self-employed workers now than before the pandemic, were still concerned about the virus, and were unable to return to the labor force without adequate child care.

MORE LOCAL STORIES ON LABOR CHALLENGES

The Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. partnered with the Initiative Foundation and First Children’s Alliance to commission a study to identify the total number of child care slots open and how many were needed. In Crow Wing County, the study found more than 1,000 child care slots were needed and an estimated 30-35 in-home day care businesses closed during the pandemic.
Recently, the Brainerd Family YMCA received $140,000 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to increase the number of quality child care providers across the state with expectations to renovate an Oak Street property and add 74-85 infant and toddler spots.

It’s been common to see signs at area businesses noting they were closing early, may take more time for service or cut back, or be unable to open altogether because of being short-staffed. This summer, Glynn, BLAEDC executive director, said it is safe to say Crow Wing County and parts of Cass County had 2,000 job openings.


In Crow Wing County, the study found more than 1,000 child care slots were needed and an estimated 30-35 in-home day care businesses closed during the pandemic.

Source: Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. / Initiative Foundation / First Children’s Alliance


The labor shortage is a national issue with Reuters reporting initial claims for state unemployment benefits were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 205,000 for the week ended Dec. 18, per the Labor Department. Early this month, claims dropped to a level last seen in 1969. In November, Minnesota’s unemployment rate dropped to pre-pandemic levels.

For the whole of 2021, the economy is expected to grow 5.6%, which would be the fastest since 1984, according to a Reuters survey of economists. The economy contracted 3.4% in 2020.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 205,000 applications for the latest week, Reuters reported just before Christmas. Claims have declined from a record high of 6.149 million in early April of 2020. There were a record 11 million job openings at the end of October, Reuters reported. The labor market is tightening, with the unemployment rate at a 21-month low 4.2%.

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MORE STORIES ON LABOR CHALLENGES

Restaurants, like the Northwind Grille in downtown Brainerd, were unable to reopen, posting a sign on the door citing a lack of workers. The restaurant wasn’t alone in the struggle. From bus drivers to warming house attendants at Baxter ice rinks, worker shortages affected services.
In 2017, Susan Brower, state demographer, said a crunch time was coming with baby boomers leaving the workforce, and with a low birth rate, Minnesota would have to look outside its borders to grow the workforce.

MORE STORIES ON LABOR CHALLENGES

  • Small businesses scramble to adapt to labor shortage Raising pay, adjusting operations are among the responses at businesses across the Upper Midwest.
  • Business experts: Reasons for quitting work range from poor pay to feeling undervalued The reasons prompting US workers to quit range from the practical -- a need for a flexible schedule and a livable wage -- to more intangible needs, such as the desire to feel valued.
  • Can this workforce be saved? Here's why US workers are quitting in droves “Help wanted” signs are everywhere. Job specialists say people won’t take a job unless it pays at least $15 an hour. Since April, workers have been voluntarily leaving their jobs at a rate of 4 million people — that’s more people than the populations of the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro area — per month. What's behind this Great Resignation, and can this workforce be saved?
  • High demand for four-day work weeks is coming to United States businesses

And that creates another challenge with a lack of affordable housing.
This summer, Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce president, said the workforce shortage is the area’s biggest challenge and he expects that to continue for the foreseeable future. “I believe our community can be a big winner for talent, but we have to be creative and work together. That begins with keeping our kids here and recruiting new residents at the same time.”

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

More Top 10 stories

Related Topics: CENTERPIECE
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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