The ongoing workforce shortage was the subject of a recent public hearing where the PA Chamber and a member company testified on behalf of the state’s employers and sounded the alarm about the crisis they’re experiencing.
Aaron Humes, who serves as general manager of the Cargill Case Ready Facility in Camp Hill, offered his perspective to the House Commerce Committee and described workforce challenges experienced by Cargill, a meat processor that employs around 3,200 Pennsylvanians at 14 diverse facilities throughout the Commonwealth. Humes testified that Cargill currently has 500 open full-time positions in Pennsylvania, including 79 at the Camp Hill facility, which they are struggling to fill despite competitive pay and benefits.
PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Alex Halper recounted to committee members the extreme economic hardships businesses across a number of industries have experienced as a result of the pandemic; and how many cannot fully participate in the economic recovery as they struggle to fill open positions. He referenced a May 2021 survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showing that nearly half of the 500 people surveyed said they are not actively looking for work, with 6 in 10 admitting they are in no hurry to return to work. “Extrapolated to 9.3 million unemployed Americans, that’s an estimated 2.8 million people who will remain on the sidelines this year, 1.2 million of whom expect not to return to work,” Halper explained.
He shared the PA Chamber’s short and long-term strategies for addressing the crisis, which includes efforts to connect people with the resources they need to pursue a career in the skilled trades; and reforming current laws to make jobs more accessible – focusing on criminal justice reform, transportation, childcare, state licensure laws and other factors.
Notably, a key underlying cause of the workforce shortage has been weekly federal unemployment compensation benefit enhancements that have disincentivized work in some cases. Halper noted that an estimated 40 percent of Pennsylvania workers could make more collecting unemployment benefits than earning wages.
The recent expiration of these benefits will hopefully signal a return to work for many unemployed Americans. However, Halper said that the PA Chamber believes the lengthy federal benefit – which was in addition to UC benefits at the state level – pushed the UC system beyond the limits for which it was intended. “Unemployment Compensation policies should always encourage claimants to transition off public benefits and back to employment as quickly as possible,” he stressed.
Halper’s full testimony to the committee is available here.