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UMKC economics professor says work-life balance contributes to lack of labor

Workers retrain, not returning to service industry
Now hiring generic
Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-06 18:49:49-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Long wait lines and countless 'We're Hiring' signs blanket the Kansas City metro, making it feel like most businesses are short-staffed.

“With the restaurants, half the tables seem to be open but there’s still two-hour waits, but there’s not enough staff," said Patrick Pucelik, who's visiting Kansas City, Missouri, from Omaha. “There is a lack of people, a lack of help.”

And businesses specifically in the services sector are finding it hard to hire.

Pucelik said Omaha has the same hiring situation and believes federal unemployment benefits are to blame.

“It’s cheaper for them to sit at home and not have any income," he said.

Federal unemployment benefits ended Friday in Kansas, but in Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson ended them in June.

Jeff Lambert, who owns a Kansas City-area heating and cooling company, said he is struggling to hire and has similar thoughts as Pucelik.

“You get more business and [then] can’t get the help and people would just rather collect unemployment than work,“ Lambert said.

However, Bill Black, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law and economics professor, negated that theory.

“Let’s dispel the myth - the myth is that because there’s extended federal unemployment benefits people are just lazy and want to stay home," Black said.

Even in states where extended federal unemployment benefits ended early, job growth has yet to return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, Black said, citing the risk and work to be done are no longer worth the reward of low wages and tireless hours. Those factors have changed how people approach life and work-life balance.

“The jobs that aren’t being filled are really just, not great jobs – they are dangerous jobs," Black said. “Nobody wants for, whether it’s for $12 an hour or $15 an hour, to not only potentially kill themselves but their family and their loved ones by getting COVID.“

Still, Pucelik said he's frustrated.

“I go to work every day, most every day of the year, and I would like to think that other people have that same drive," he said.

But Black said it's the opposite – people in this country love to work, they don't love to die.

“This is worth talking about," he said. "This is a huge sector of employment – restaurants and such – that has been slammed, but it’s very long hours, very tough hours, for very little pay.

Black said he believes increasing and enforcing safety protocols could bring more employees back to the workforce.