“If so many people want a job, why are there so many Help Wanted signs up?” People ask me this question almost everywhere I go. It’s a reasonable question, but it’s the wrong one for us to ask.
As Labor Day approaches, we begin to think about the millions of individuals who support the everyday moments of our lives. Our economy runs on their hard work-from the barista at your favorite coffee shop to the woman who bags your groceries to teachers who welcome your children to their classroom each morning. As we face the rise of the Delta variant, we also see the gaps everyday Georgians leave when they can’t participate in the workforce.
The reality is people DO want to work, but more and more DON’T want to work for what they’ve been paid. And for good reason.
First, the already-expensive cost of childcare in Georgia has risen 116% since the start of the pandemic. It’s difficult to justify that spending when a few days of childcare winds up costing all of what you make in a week.
Second, rent is rising. Rent is up 10% in Atlanta, 7% in Columbus, and 11% in Savannah. In Savannah, the average income for a resident in 2019 was $25K, but to afford a one-bedroom apartment, a person would need to make almost $35K, according to the Chatham Housing Coalition. This means more than half of the city’s renters are forced to pay over one-third of their income for housing each month, which puts them in a dangerous financial position.
The final reason is fear. The Delta variant is ravaging this state, and we’ve only vaccinated about 40% of our population. COVID is killing our communities, and for many, the risk of illness or death is not worth the paycheck, particularly when the paycheck won’t even cover basic necessities.
I believe a better question is not, “Why aren’t people working?”, but instead, “How can we create better work?” Our state leaders talk a lot about our low unemployment rate, but what goes unaddressed is our high rate of underemployment. Georgians need more, better jobs, and better pathways to those jobs.
As we build back from the pandemic, let’s honor our workforce by creating state-run apprenticeship programs, and partnering with union apprenticeship programs to expand skilled labor in Georgia. This creates pathways for our high school and college graduates, as well as adults who, are ready to make a career change or re-enter the workforce after caring for children. We can make this a reality in Georgia, and Georgia’s workforce deserves it.
We can also address underemployment by giving people the tools they need to start their own business. There are five states in the U.S. that have a Self-Employment Assistance Program. This is a program where, if you lose your job and qualify for unemployment, and have an idea for a new business, you can work with the Department of Labor and the Small Business Administration to launch your company. 43% of Georgians work for a small business. They are the lifeblood of our economy. Let’s continue to build pathways for new businesses, and in doing so, new opportunities.
Georgians deserve a government that expands opportunity and doesn’t take workers for granted. This Labor Day, let’s celebrate those who work to make our state great, and begin to build a vision for a better future.