Many Milledgeville businesses are heavily decorated in a new popular accessory: help wanted signs.
With restrictions being lifted faster than expected, many businesses are struggling to find staff to operate at maximum capacity. The restaurant industry is feeling the most significant impact, causing many restaurants to only offer pick-up options and raise prices.
Restaurants like El Tequila have become so short-staffed that they had to suspend outdoor eating options.
The Associated Press is reporting that government surveys show that some citizens were fearful of contracting the virus. That fear caused them not to look for employment during the pandemic.
“I was afraid of contracting the virus,” said Tamariel Simmons, a new mother and former employee of Belk. “I was afraid so much to the point that I did not return to work.”
Many parents like Simmons have not returned to the workforce due to concerns about how it will affect their children.
“I would rather let my child’s immune system get stronger before I go back to work, especially with the mask mandate being lifted,” said Simmons.
Many people are blaming extended unemployment benefits for the current job shortage. Pandemic unemployment benefits will expire before the end of this month.
“It’s hard right now,” said Mike Ali, owner of Sharks Fish and Chicken. “Everyone is getting unemployment, and now they do not have an incentive to work.”
Sharks had been so heavily affected by the pandemic that they had to close their doors temporarily. After being closed for months, he plans on re-opening in the next couple of weeks.
“Life is going back to normal, so it’s time for people to go back to work,” Ali said.
Some businesses are raising their wages to get more employees through the doors. Companies like Walmart are some of the latest to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour. Others are holding open interviews.
However, for smaller businesses, raising wages comes at a considerable cost.
“I know the president is saying raise the minimum wage, but I want them to go ahead and make a decision,” Ali said. “I have already had to raise prices.”
Ali admits that, if wages grow, he will have to make a difficult decision to continue operations, including raising prices.
Although there will have to be some adjustments, workers agree that a raise in wages is much needed.
“Wages in Milledgeville are not livable unless you work in a factory or prison,” Simmons said. “Not everyone, like myself, is built to work in those environments.”
Unemployment rates in Baldwin County are improving. For April, Baldwin County reported an unemployment rate of 4.5%. In April of 2020, the unemployment rate was 10.8%. The unemployment rate is higher than the average for the middle Georgia area. The middle Georgia rate was 3.9% for April 2021.