Major coronavirus job losses point to other societal ills in North Bay, US

Employment challenges in the economic recovery

• 1 in 3 workers are willing to quit their jobs if they’re required to return to work full time.

• Out of 1,500 working women surveyed, 65% feel underappreciated, while 43% believe they’re underpaid.

Source: Robert Half

The loss of jobs over the past year was staggering throughout the country — 30 million in a matter of weeks, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told reporters Tuesday.

But for each of the last four months, 540,000 workers have returned.

Yet that “claw back” is proving a challenge, especially to some North Bay employers, with lack of child care, lower wages and housing providing barriers to the “roaring back” economy many hope for.

“It is difficult. Fortunately, I have a solid team that helps with our commitment to survive the reopening,” said Erin Riley, owner of Be Bubbly of Napa.

To be open more hours and provide vacations for current workers, she needs to hire three or four more workers.

But interested workers also need to represent the right fit.

“I don’t want people here just for the money. I want people here because they want to be bubbly,” she said, adding the hope that people will enter the workforce once the additional unemployment benefits run out.

However, once extra unemployment benefits run out, people run the risk of not being able to pay for child care and housing, all issues relative to the federal government’s latest stimulus plans.

Walsh pointed out the American Jobs Plan — which has been tied up in wrangling between the Republican and Democratic parties as talks have broken down as recently as Tuesday — is due to create 2 million more housing units in the inner confines of the proposal. Beyond addressing the lack of housing inventory plaguing the nation, the proposed plan’s primary purpose targets the expansion of jobs and improves infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

The U.S. labor chief also noted another major issue tying up the workforce that elements of the American Rescue Plan were hoping to help.

The plan adopted in March placed $39 billion into coffers designed to invest in child care in the United States.

This issue serves as a front and center problem for most working families, according to San Rafael staffing expert Sarah Cush, who advises Robert Half recruitment agency clients.

“Going through COVID and 2020, some people realize there’s more to life than money,” Cush said, listing family, health and wellness — meaning mental well-being — as priorities. “In the Bay Area, it’s been about keeping up with the Joneses. But 2020 forced us to stop and reevaluate.”

The rethinking has carried over into the need for job satisfaction as a greater priority — even it means something as remedial and standard as access to child care. Many parents were forced to stay home with their children when schools closed and child care centers became scarce.

The recruitment agency recently conducted surveys that show remote work as a high priority to the labor force — with one in three employees willing to look elsewhere for work if they’re required to go back to the office.

“We need to find things that people are passionate about more than a paycheck. They want to feel connected and ask themselves: ‘How can I make the world a better place?’” she said.

“What are organizations going to do to attract employees?” she asked rhetorically. “They’re looking for organizations that make those kinds of sacrifices.”

Cush cited some employers sharing their plans to either incorporate child care facilities at the workplace or offer resources or discounts for others.

It takes more than money to satisfy a worker these days.

“I think people are looking for more than minimum wage jobs with benefits and a purpose — the foundational support we all need to have a family and a house,” North Bay Labor Council Executive Director Jack Buckhorn said. “Our economy is going to roar back. We’re already starting to see that with larger companies providing more benefits and higher wages.”

Where the workforce lives may explain the need for comparable wages to accommodate the demand.

The median sales price in Sonoma County this June stands at $762,500 — $152,000 more than four years ago at that time. Napa County’s numbers have shown living here is pricey as well, with the median sales price last month coming in at a whopping $875,000, compared to $650,000 in that month four years ago. And affordability in Marin is even more difficult since the median sales price stood at $1.7 million in May. It has risen by $500,000 in the last four years.

Prospects are overbidding and impatient about offers being accepted.

“Every (real agent) I know is working harder than ever,” said Compass Healdsburg real estate agent Carol Lexa, the past president of the North Bay Association of Realtors. “It’s pushed the affordability out of whack.”

If you’re a younger prospect for homeownership, the market gets tighter as the older segment has accumulated the wealth necessary to obtain America’s dream. The National Association of Realtors reported that 76% of homeownership lies with those over the age of 55. A homeowner’s average age was 47 in 2019 but only 39 over a decade ago.

No one-size-fits-all solution will solve the multitude of problems that go with the complexity of a stable workforce.

“It’s a perplexing problem in many ways. COVID has exposed long-term problems that we’ve seen in our economy,” California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith said, adding that even the Golden State’s higher minimum wage of $14 an hour in comparison to the rest of the country doesn’t cut it. The rate rises to $15 an hour come 2022.

“We need wages to go into workers’ pockets. It’s going to take longer for the economy to recover. We need people to go back to work, but business has to step it up and pay a livable wage,” he said. “What we have is inefficient. We’re talking about families barely making it before the pandemic. When the benefits run out, what will happen to all those families?”

Employment challenges in the economic recovery

• 1 in 3 workers are willing to quit their jobs if they’re required to return to work full time.

• Out of 1,500 working women surveyed, 65% feel underappreciated, while 43% believe they’re underpaid.

Source: Robert Half

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