COVID & Unemployment

Hiring in a pandemic requires a different calculus

Andy Uhler Jan 8, 2021
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An employee stocks merchandise at a store in Glendale, California. Many businesses have reduced staffing as the pandemic reduced cash flow. David McNew/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Hiring in a pandemic requires a different calculus

Andy Uhler Jan 8, 2021
Heard on:
An employee stocks merchandise at a store in Glendale, California. Many businesses have reduced staffing as the pandemic reduced cash flow. David McNew/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Way back when, about a year and a half ago, Kristof Irwin was starting to expand his sustainable engineering for home design business, Positive Energy.

“We actually brought on a lot of new staff in late 2019, early 2020. And then boom!”

Everyone knows what “boom” Irwin is talking about.

He kept his 18 full-time employees but said now’s not the time to hire more. There’s too much uncertainty.

“As a business, we are treading water. And as people, we are exhausted,” the Austin, Texas-based entrepreneur said.

Like many other small business owners, Lizelle Villapando can relate. She runs a boutique in Austin called Parts & Labour. She admits she’s burned out.

“If I could turn three of my part-timers into full-timers, then I would feel comfortable taking two days a week off,” she said. “But the cost of having five full-timers, and the cash flow that I’m seeing now, is scary.”

Cash flow is why Shelley Meyer is running her several Austin gift shops with only about half the people she had on staff before the pandemic. 

“There’s less work,” she said. “There’s less work and less customers, so when we have more customers, we’ll have more shifts, we’ll need more merch, we’ll have to bring in more people to process that merch. So we just have to wait until it happens.”

Meyer normally employs three people to run a warehouse full of inventory. But there’s not a lot of product coming through the stores, so right now, there’s no need for those workers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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