Charleston economist says workforce shortage could linger

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As America works to recover from the widespread toll the pandemic has been taking, the job market remains rocky. Millions of Americans are reportedly quitting their jobs for better opportunities.

The hospitality industry has taken the biggest hit with nearly 900,000 workers quitting their jobs in August alone.

Economists are calling it ‘The Great Resignation.’

Frank Hefner is an economics professor at the College of Charleston. He explains there are many reasons behind workers switching careers. It ranges from wanting a better schedule to better benefits, to looking for more positivity in the workplace.

Throughout the first year, or so, of the pandemic, federal unemployment aid was boosted. Some people have pointed to this as a reason for millions of job openings nationwide. But, in South Carolina, those programs ended at the end of June.

“Once all of those disappeared, the expectation would be they would all jump back into the workforce. But, low and behold, we don’t find much empirical evidence on that,” said Hefner. “There’s all sorts of things that are coming into play in this that make it very difficult to say that ‘we’re gonna flip the switch and suddenly millions of people are gonna go back to work’. That’s just not the way it works.”

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) found that nearly 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August. That does not mean they left the workforce entirely. They may have quit one job to move to another. It is still recorded as a “quit” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hefner says he’s heard many stories of people wanting a change. For example, higher pay, a better work environment, remote opportunities, room for career development, the list goes on.

College of Charleston graduate, Erin Cooper, is one of the millions who made a job switch during the pandemic. She worked at a busy Downtown Charleston restaurant for years. She describes the environment as negative.

“No one cares if you don’t feel great. If you’re sick, your tables don’t care if you’re sick. No one cares if you’ve had a bad day. You’re constantly on display, you’re performing really the whole time,” said Cooper.

During the pandemic, exhaustion escalated as she says her coworkers quit left and right.

“When the restaurants opened back up, I was a lead server. I was tired,” said Cooper.

She says she was overworked and the money was inconsistent, describing days when the staff was so exhausted, the restaurant had to shut down early.

Her breaking point was a 14-hour shift with no a/c.

“I just could not do it anymore. I decided I had to have a 9-5. I had to have benefits. So, I switched over to a different type of job.”

She found her niche in event coordinating. A better schedule, room for growth, and consistent pay have lifted the weight off Cooper’s shoulders.

“I feel just generally better. I feel like I can plan out my days, my weeks, I can meal prep, see my family and friends a lot more which helps me a lot. Generally, I’m much happier,” said Cooper.

Professor Hefner says Cooper’s story is not uncommon.

“It is not one thing. I have met people that were in one personal service industry, we always like to pick on restaurants, they were in the restaurant industry and now they’re doing something else and they discovered they really like doing that something else now,” said Hefner.

When asked about the future of the job market, Hefner says unfortunately there is no concrete answer and despite future forecasts from economists, nobody knows exactly what will happen.

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