The labor force has shrunk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Halifax County’s labor force in March 2020 was 15,199, according to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). In March of this year, the county’s labor force had shrunk to 14,860.
Locally, help wanted signs are popping up at factories, retail stores and restaurants. But employers are having a harder time finding applicants to fill those open positions.
“We’re not getting as many applicants as we have in the past,” said Jason Badeaux, owner of Badeaux’s Seafood Grill in South Boston and the Papa John’s in South Boston and Farmville. “So many places are hiring. There are just so many job openings across the spectrum of the workforce, in multiple industries.”
Badeaux’s currently is hiring bartenders and servers, while the Papa John’s of South Boston and Farmville are hiring delivery drivers. While Badeaux said he has a “core group of veteran” workers in his restaurants, he is having trouble finding new staff members to fill open positions, and that presents a staffing problem when one of his employees calls out sick.
Another local employer currently hiring is Dollar General’s South Boston Distribution Center. The distribution center is advertising openings in shipping and picking, and is offering up to a $500 sign-on bonus for new hires.
“We’re proud to provide individuals with opportunities to start or advance their careers while serving as a positive economic presence in the South Boston community that we’re proud to call home,” according to a statement emailed to The Gazette by Crystal Luce, a member of the Dollar General Corporation’s public relations team. “The DG South Boston distribution center offers opportunities in roles within general warehouse, human resources, inventory control, maintenance, training and administration.”
Lowe’s of South Boston also is hiring. The home improvement chain store had a national day of hiring on Tuesday.
The South Boston branch of Presto Products Company is hiring, as well, and recently held a job fair. Job openings are posted on the company’s website: https://careers.reynoldsconsumerproducts.com/.
These employers are just a few of the local places currently hiring.
Timothy Aylor, senior economist for the Virginia Employment Commission, explained some of the reasons for people leaving the labor force.
In any labor market, Aylor said there are people aging out of the workforce and retiring, and those who get discouraged trying to find employment and leave the labor force. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has added more factors into the mix.
Aylor said in some cases, people have been hesitant to return to their jobs because of fears over COVID-19, and others are staying home because they have been unable to secure childcare with their children attending school through remote learning.
The labor force includes both the employed and the unemployed — those actively seeking employment, Aylor explained.
He described the process of determining an area’s labor force: taking the total population of an area, and subtracting the military (non-civilian) population, the institutionalized (incarcerated) population and population under the age of 16. From that remaining population, the labor force can be determined.
Unemployment has decreased statewide and locally in recent months but has yet to return to pre-COVID-19 numbers. Halifax County’s unemployment in March 2020 was 4.2% or 643 people, according to the VEC. This March, unemployment was 5.9% or 879 people. That number is down from 6.2% in February.
“It’s a trend that we’ve been seeing,” Aylor said. “It’s somewhat due to people finding work, but it’s also due to people leaving the work force. They’re no longer looking for work.”
Aylor also explained the unemployment figure of 4.2% for March 2020 is a result of a survey that was taken the second week of March. Therefore, it does not reflect the shutdowns due to COVID-19, which began the third week of March, and subsequent jump in unemployment.
“The actual impact in real terms took place in March, but it didn’t show up until April,” Aylor explained.
According to the VEC, the number of continuing unemployment claims in Halifax County, or the number of those filing weekly claims following their initial claim, was 155 on March 14, 2020, the week prior to Gov. Ralph Northam’s issuance of a stay-at-home order and business shutdowns.
The number of continuing unemployment claims skyrocketed the next couple of months, peaking at 1,146 the week of May 16, 2020 Aylor shared. In comparison, 217 continuing claims were filed in Halifax County the week of April 24 of this year.
“It’s similar to what’s going on statewide,” Aylor noted.
In Virginia, 18,963 continuing unemployment claims were filed the week of March 14, 2020, according to the VEC. The week of May 16, 2020, 380,000 continuing claims were filed.
The week of April 24 of this year, 50,000 continuing claims were filed.