West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) – In the last several weeks, several service industry business owners have called the Lexington Ledger requesting information on how they could list help wanted ads to fill jobs such as waitressing and cook’s positions in restaurants, mechanic’s jobs, or hotel/motel maintenance and cleanliness employees. We’ve also heard the same complaint from people in the lawncare business. All have the same story to tell, they have jobs for people but have found very a few that had a desire to come back to work until their federally enhanced employment benefits ran out.
Some of the latest unemployment statistics we could locate were for May of 2020. Those numbers reflected a SC statewide unemployment rate that averaged over 11.5%. Before the pandemic closures began in March, South Carolina’s unemployment rate was less than 3% and Lexington County’s was even lower than that. With unemployment in the double digits, it would make sense that people would be clamoring for jobs of any kind in order to meet their financial obligations and support their families. They are not, according to business owners!
The owner of a very old and well-respected restaurant in the West Columbia – Cayce area contacted us on Thursday and inquired about placing help wanted advertising. That owner said that in all the years she’s been running that business, she’s never had as much trouble hiring for any position as she is currently experiencing now. “People are not applying at all,” she said. “If one of the few employees I do have knows someone that’s worked this type of job and can provide their contact info, when I call them to see if they want a job they say they’re not interested in going to work right now.” She said that some that are close friends of her working employees will simply tell her they are already working somewhere else, but then brag to their friend the money they are bringing home in unemployment while doing nothing is significantly more than they would make working.
As recently as Thursday afternoon, the Lizards Thicket, one of the Midlands most well-known meat & three restaurants,announced they would be temporarily closing their Airport Boulevard at Boston Avenue location in Lexington County. Another is temporarily being shuttered in Richland County. Their owner said this was being done to move those location’s staff members to some of their other stores that have jobs they’ve been unable to fill.
This is not just a restaurant problem. Small mechanic shops, construction companies, and other businesses that use a labor force that doesn’t require a college degree, but instead uses employees who get their training by being on the job, are all reporting the same issue. People who are drawing the enhanced unemployment that includes a higher rate of pay plus a federally supported and guaranteed $600 per week added payments are simply making more not working that they ever did when they worked.
SC Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott both caught on to the fact that the government would be incentivizing people to stay at home and take it easy just before that stimulus package was passed into law. When they raised the alarm and threatened to hold up the package along with a few other lawmakers, it quickly became evident that they would be villainized as men who would rather hurt than help the American people that had lost their jobs during the pandemic. The senate did pass the stimulus plan with the enhanced benefits in it and it was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The business owners we’ve spoken with now say those men’s predictions that people wouldn’t want to come back to work until those checks stopped rolling in are coming true. “Who wouldn’t want to stay home and do nothing but what you wanted to rather than have to come work a long hard day for your money and make less? Yet if we raised our employees’ wages to get anywhere close to matching what they are making in unemployment, we’d have to raise the prices of a meal so high no one would be able to afford to eat in our restaurants,” one business owner said.
The SC Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) did send a letter to business owners that pay into the unemployment system last week that instructed owners who have laid off employees that refuse to return to work when called to do so to report those employees to that agency. It’s unclear if any or how many business owners have taken that step.
“I don’t know what we are going to do,” said one business owner, “but if we don’t do something, the money meant to help our employees we had to lay off is going to put us out of business now that we can reopen and go back to work!”
The enhanced unemployment benefits are set to runout at the end of July unless Congress agrees to extend it in another stimulus package. Until then, many employers feel they will be working almost alone in their businesses.