Where Are The Workers?

The pandemic caused a massive wave of unemployment in our region. But now that the economy is coming back, employers face a new problem. KDKA's Andy Sheehan has more.

Video Transcript

STACY SMITH: The pandemic caused a massive wave of unemployment in the Pittsburgh region, but now that the economy is rebounding, employers are facing a new problem. Where are the workers? KDKA investigator Andy Sheehan is looking into why businesses can't seem to fill positions. Andy joins us live now with the details. Andy.

ANDY SHEEHAN: Well, Stacy, employers, business owners say they've never seen anything like it. Suddenly they have lots of job openings and no workers to fill them.

After a year of shutdowns and indoor-dining restrictions, the lunchtime crowd at the Juniper Grill in Cranberry is picking up. The problem now is a shortage of cooks, bartenders, and wait staff to serve them.

PAT MCDONNELL: Well, my experience is I've never seen anything like it. You know, Andy, we've got-- we've got eight restaurants, and we need people. We need employees in all eight restaurants.

ANDY SHEEHAN: Employers throughout the region have the same lament. The entire service economy, stores, car dealerships, landscapers-- now that the economy is springing back, they can't find the workers to fill the positions.

PAT MCDONNELL: People call to make an interview, and they don't show up for interviews. We've been in every media-- every place that we could go to advertise and to get the word out that we're hiring. It's just been very, very difficult.

CHRIS BREAM: The labor force is down. The number of people looking for work is down. I think a lot of folks have moved on.

ANDY SHEEHAN: At the onset of the pandemic, the region lost 200,000 jobs but over the last year got all but 78,000 back. But now that many of those jobs are returning, about 50,000 people have left the workforce, and according to Pitt researcher Chris Bream, are no longer available.

CHRIS BREAM: I think some folks have retired early. I think a lot of our younger workers include our students. I think there are tremendous issues with folks taking care of children or other folks at home not able to sort of jump back into the labor force.

ANDY SHEEHAN: They don't want to come back.

CHRIS HANSEN: It's a challenge to get all of them back because of the increased money that they get.

ANDY SHEEHAN: St. Moritz Security Services is looking to fill some 200 security-officer positions. But chief operating officer Chris Hansen says many of his employees aren't coming back because they're making enough money not to work with supplemental unemployment. Add in the new round of stimulus checks and he says getting workers will be that much harder.

CHRIS HANSEN: You saw a number of people get their first paychecks today, and we had some call-offs this afternoon.

ANDY SHEEHAN: While employers hope that this is temporary, that once the stimulus check is spent and once the unemployment runs out, the workers will come back. But if they don't, that's very bad news for the regional economy's recovery.

Reporting live on the North Shore, Andy Sheehan, KDKA News.