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Staffing agencies say more jobs available than job seekers

SALISBURY — When the coronavirus pandemic spread to North Carolina in the spring, unemployment claims rose dramatically.

In April, the number of continued unemployment claims more than tripled those from March, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Those numbers remained high in May, including in Rowan County, when the unemployment rate hit 14.7% before dropping to 8.4% in June. The latter number was still twice as high as the unemployment rate in June 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But as the work force suffered from the impacts of COVID-19, local staffing agencies who work to find employees for clients struggled as well. They struggled to fill a number of open jobs.

“It’s interesting because, with the state of our economy, there are a ton of jobs that are available right now,” said Bianca Warren, a staffing supervisor with Bonney Staffing Center. “However, with all the incentives people have to be home, unemployed, it’s made it a challenge to encourage people to accept assignments.”

Hire Dynamics, another local staffing agency, has faced a similar problem.

Patti Misenheimer, the company’s regional manager for the Piedmont, said the pendulum has always swung between there being more jobs than workers and more workers than jobs. Right now, the pendulum is squarely in favor of there being an abundance of jobs and a shortage of workers, Misenheimer said. As of Monday morning, she had over 100 job orders from nearby companies that needed to be filled.

In late March, the U.S. government authorized an additional $600 per week of enhanced unemployment benefits to be distributed as a part of the CARES Act. With that added benefit, Warren and Misenheimer found that some people could make more money filing for unemployment than actively seeking a job.

In order to recruit workers, Misenheimer had to change her messaging to applicants.

“It’s about getting people excited about the jobs that we have,” Misenheimer said. “When we are talking to Billy, Susie or José, we can say, ‘Hey, maybe with that $600 you’re making more right now, but that is going to end and this particular job won’t. Look at the company and look at the opportunity to go full time.’”

The $600 a week unemployment enhancement ended recently when it was not extended after the July 31 deadline. In its place, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that looks to provide $400 in added benefits, but $100 of that was proposed to come from state and it was not clear when or if those benefits would begin. There were also questions about whether the president had the authority to do that.

“I think people have realized now that $600 did end, and even if it is $400 I think people will see that it’s not quite as much,” Misenheimer said. “I think we’ll see the pendulum swing a bit in the other way.”

In June, Rowan County saw 6,131 continued claims for unemployment benefits — 4,647 of which were COVID-19 related. That was down from the 7,913 claims from the month prior. As Warren and Misenheimer and other staffing agencies fill the open jobs they have, that number could continue to drop. Warren views the number of available jobs her agency is looking to fill as a positive.

“It’s been allowing people in Rowan County to be hopeful because when they go to our website and check on job availability, they’re seeing jobs are available,” Warren said.

Rowan County has seen a growth of warehouse jobs due to the recent boom in e-commerce as well as the opening of Chewy.com’s fulfillment warehouse.

“The e-commerce boom has caused an expansion in distribution facilities and people need to staff those,” said Rod Crider, president of the Rowan County Economic Development Commission.

Crider also mentioned that major food distributors like Food Lion and Aldi are looking for workers as well.

Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding encourages those who may have lost their jobs in other industries to look for work at local distribution facilities.

“If citizens out there who were laid off in the hospitality industry were looking for a job with good benefits, they should look at some of these open positions with companies like Food Lion and Aldi,” Spalding said.

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