Capital Region

Some jobs go begging as economy emerges from pandemic’s shadow

Nick Durrum is shown working in the Stewart's Shops milk processing plant in Greenfield. There are 32 job openings at the plant and a combined 1,200-plus elsewhere across the company's 350 locations.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Nick Durrum is shown working in the Stewart's Shops milk processing plant in Greenfield. There are 32 job openings at the plant and a combined 1,200-plus elsewhere across the company's 350 locations.

ALBANY — Fewer people are working in the Capital Region than a year ago and fewer appear to be seeking work.

There were 5.7% fewer jobs in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Statistical Area in March 2021 than in March 2020, the state Department of Labor reported this week.

The DOL hasn’t estimated the area’s March unemployment rate yet, but the February 2021 rate was 6.3%, up from 4.0% in February 2020, the last month before COVID-19 caused an economic meltdown.

Yet, many Capital Region employers can’t find people to hire, a situation that is increasingly drawing attention nationwide as a potential drag on the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Nearly 40% of work-age New Yorkers are unemployed and not actively seeking employment, by federal estimates.

Some of these people likely are worried about catching COVID at work.

Some may lack child care options and have to stay home.

Some may have given up the job search because of the uncertainties of the economy and everyday life in the past year, or because they don’t think there’s anything out there for them.

And some may have realized they could make more money through unemployment benefits and decided not to look for work.

HELP WANTED

Across the Capital Region on Friday, online job postings showed a target-rich environment for those who want to work.

Some of the jobs will be out of reach of the 99% of people, who will lack the years of specific education or training or experience needed, but other jobs are entry-level, doable by much of the population.

A sampling:

  • Lowe’s 83 openings
  • Saratoga Hospital 210 
  • Walmart 21
  • Regeneron 105
  • Amazon 95 
  • GlobalFoundries 83 
  • Johnson Controls 10
  • Target 41
  • MVP Healthcare 25

Mohawk Ambulance seeks an IT specialist.

Durham School Services wants drivers, training provided.

The shops at Albany International Airport need employees to serve a growing number of travelers.

Image360 is looking for a sign installer.

FedEx Ground is hiring package handlers.

Great Escape needs 1,500 people, give or take, but only for the summer.

A LOT OF HELP WANTED

The frontrunner might just be Stewart’s Shops. The regional convenience store operator currently has more than 1,200 openings — full- and part-time, from entry-level cashiers to executive positions.

“It’s a struggle to hire, especially right now,” spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said. “We’re just not seeing the applications come in.”

She added that company president Gary Dake sits on multiple boards of directors and is seeing many other employers in the same situation.

Komoroske cited the same factor mentioned by many other business leaders and their supporters: Combined federal and state unemployment benefits come close to or exceed the salaries some people were making in their pre-COVID jobs.

“I feel like they may be comfortable with the benefits they’re getting for not working,” Komoroske said.

This suggestion has been pooh-poohed by advocates of higher stimulus spending, but the numbers add up.

A worker making $18 an hour gets $720 a week in gross pay; New York unemployment benefits are half that, or $360. The $300-a-week federal bonus brings the unemployment benefits for that hypothetical worker up to $660 a week. Factor in the cost of commuting and perhaps childcare, and going back to work results in a net loss.

That worker probably also got stimulus checks from presidents Trump and Biden.

Komoroske said Stewart’s isn’t getting many applications for the entry-level retail positions, for which no experience is required and training is provided.

Nor for positions such as fuel truck drivers, who need a specialized license, or accountants, who need a professional degree.

Nor for an open position in the executive suite, director of philanthropy.

“It really runs the gamut,” Komoroske said.

Between its headquarters, the milk and ice cream production facility and 345 stores, Stewart’s has more than 5,000 employees.

NON-PARTICIPATION

The situation is national and it predates the pandemic.

In the Capital Region and across the nation, a recurring complaint by employers in 2018 and 2019 was lack of job applicants.

Labor force participation — the percentage of the working-age population that is working or actively seeking work — has steadily declined nationwide in the last 20 years, from 67.2% in March 2001 to 63.3% in February 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. It plummeted to 60.2% in April 2020, but rose to 61.5% in March 2021.

This indicates a significant number of working-age people are still on the sidelines as the pandemic lurches along in its second year, sickening and killing Americans at a reduced but still-serious rate.

Nearly half of all Americans unemployed in March 2021 have been jobless for more than six months, BLS reported.

Hannaford and Price Chopper/Market 32 are two other large Capital Region employers with continual hiring needs.

Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub said the pandemic hit her supermarkets from both sides on labor: It created the need for more employees to run what were among the most essential businesses during the crisis while simultaneously shrinking the pool of applicants from which to draw new employees.

“We currently have a broad array of openings in our stores and our warehouses,” she said.

Those are full-time as well as part-time, and applicants can be skilled and experienced or not.

“We often hire on basic attributes — reliability, attitude, customer service aptitude — and then train for the skill,” Golub said.

She added that the entry-level jobs can be a gateway to higher-ranking and higher-paying positions for those who excel in them.

Spokesman Eric Blom said Hannaford too needs new employees.

“All of our stores are hiring, for a wide range of positions,” he said via email. “In terms of specific training, we have a wide range of openings — from those that do require specialized degrees or apprenticeship (pharmacists, meat cutters) to more entry-level positions. One of the things we take pride in here is that we provide on-the-job learning opportunities and chances for professional growth, promoting from within.”

THE NUMBERS

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month that the seasonally adjusted labor force participation rate (the percentage of working-age people employed or actively seeking work) in New York state was 61.4% in March 2021, a hair below the national rate, which stood at 61.5%.

The national rate for demographic groups in March:

  • Men 69.5%
  • Hispanic 65.6%
  • Asian 63.0%
  • White 61.4%
  • Black 60.7%
  • Women 57.4%
  • Ages 16-19 35.9%

The BLS placed the seasonally adjusted civilian unemployment rate at 6.0% in March 2021, which equals 9.7 million Americans.

  • Those who’d lost jobs totaled 6.3 million.
  • Those who’d quit jobs totaled 777,000.
  • New entrants to the workforce totaled 497,000.
  • Some 43.4% had been unemployed for more than 26 weeks.
  • Pre-pandemic unemployment was just 3.5% in February 2020, or 5.7 million people.
  • Unemployment during the pandemic peaked at 14.8% in April 2020, or 23.1 million people.

Categories: Business, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

One Comment

GILLIAN SCOTT

The idea that workers are deliberately staying out of the workforce because unemployment pays better is so insulting. It’s always presented with absolutely no data about who isn’t working and what their circumstances are (such as, how many have kids). How about you spend the same word count discussing how many parents (mostly moms, I’m betting) CAN’T go back to work. My unemployment ran out last summer (I was laid off before the pandemic). I’m lucky enough that I have been able to freelance since then, but I am in no way in a position to work full-time, much less at a job that’s not remote (many if not all mentioned in the article are not). I have a child at home doing remote school who requires regular supervision. Even if she was doing in-person school, in our district, that ends at noon. Afterschool programs are limited. Summer camp spots are limited right now, too. Are parents just supposed to conjure child care with magic? If you want workers, first make it possible for people to work.

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