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Opinion

Editorial

 

As the look-back story reveals, there were many important and intriguing stories that unfolded in 2002 — everything from the maturation and continued evolution of the cannabis industry to the reopening of the hotel in the Tower Square complex; from the long-awaited start to work at Court Square in Springfield to the Thunderbirds’ exciting run to the playoffs.

And, of course, there was the economy and rising inflation and skyrocketing interest rates — more challenges for already-challenged businesses of all sizes and in every sector.

But easily the biggest story of 2022 — and it is almost certain to be the biggest story of 2023 — involves the workforce issues facing area employers.

It was in 2022 that it became crystal clear that this issue is not a temporary glitch, another side effect of COVID, a problem created by the federal government making it way too easy for people to collect unemployment and not have to work.

No, it was in 2022 that we came to accept, or should have come to accept, that this problem has very deep roots and needs the full attention of everyone involved — from employers to economic-development agencies to state officials who set tax rates and ultimately determine how expensive it is to do business in this state.

Indeed, this past year, we saw a continuation of the issues we saw in 2021: Baby Boomers retiring, in some cases well before they get to 65, let alone 67; others who are not so old simply staying on the sidelines (how, we’re not exactly sure) and opting not to work certain jobs, especially those at the lower end of the pay scale; employees showing far less loyalty than they have historically and instead displaying a willingness to move on to something they know or perceive to be better; and job candidates accepting a position and then simply not showing up on their start date because they found something else in in the interim.

All this had an impact in 2021, and in 2022 there was even more of the same: healthcare facilities with long lists of open positions; hospitals paying huge amounts for travel nurses because they can’t find enough people to take full-time positions; restaurants forced to close more days of the week because they don’t have enough help; banks unable to fill key positions, even after they widened the search beyond the 413, something they can do thanks to remote work; individual businesses and entire sectors responding by increasing pay rates and benefits, even as they struggle to make ends meet; and businesses of all kinds saying simply, ‘we can’t find the help we need.’

This was the story in 2022, and, from all we can gather, there are simply no signs of improvement on the horizon. What is clear is that, in the years to come, finding this help will be an ongoing challenge, one for which there are no easy answers. Stakeholders will simply have to do everything they can to make this state an attractive place in which to do business and work, and to attract and retain as much talent as we can.

Failure to do so will have real consequences on the local economy and our collective ability to simply do business.

This is why, as we said, this isn’t just a top news story. It’s a problem that requires our full attention.

 

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