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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

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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