Unemployment high, yet many jobs go unfilled

By ARDEN BASTIA
Posted 7/15/21

By ARDEN BASTIA According to data from the Department of Labor and Training, 20,386 Rhode Islanders collected unemployment in May 2021, about 79 percent of the state's unemployed population. But despite the number of Rhode Islanders who say they are

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Unemployment high, yet many jobs go unfilled

Posted

According to data from the Department of Labor and Training, 20,386 Rhode Islanders collected unemployment in May 2021, about 79 percent of the state’s unemployed population.

But despite the number of Rhode Islanders who say they are open to work, local businesses are struggling to find employees to fill much needed positions.

“It is what it is,” said Bev Wiley, director of parks and recreation, of the unemployment situation. “This isn’t just a city issue, but a statewide and even nationwide issue.”

In a brief interview Wednesday, she shared that the city is still short staffed several lifeguards, and doesn’t have enough attendants to collect Conimicut Point parking fees during the week.

Wiley pointed out that Warwick is “competing with all the other cities and towns in the state” for employees. “There are other cities and towns that haven’t opened their ponds or beaches and are having the same issue.”

Wiley said the city is reserving some guards to staff McDermott Pool once it reopens.

Data from the DLT revealed that more than 16 percent (3,347) of the state’s unemployed population receiving benefits faced long-term unemployment, which the DLT defines as collecting unemployment for more than 14 consecutive weeks.

20 percent (4,080) of the people receiving unemployment benefits were between the ages of 35 and 44.

23 percent (4,668) were 45 to 54 years old.

535 unemployed Rhode Islanders under the age of 22 collected unemployment, while 825 Rhode Islanders between the ages of 22 and 24 collected unemployment.

The maximum benefit rate payable is $661 per week for up to 26 weeks.

While there’s no foreseeable end to the shortage of employees, Wiley remains hopeful that the city might fill the remaining positions. “We could absolutely still use more. The challenge is trying to fit the niches of what we have and what we need.”

Lara D’Antuono, director of the Warwick Boys and Girls Club, shared that, like so many others, the organization is short staffed. The Warwick Boys and Girls Club is looking to fill part-time camp counselor positions, as well as full-time director roles.

“It’s been super challenging,” said D’Antuono with a heavy sigh in an interview Wednesday.

“In my almost 30 years of working here, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I don’t know where the workforce is, but the children’s fun and safety relies on the quality of staff that we hire, so we can’t hire just anyone.”

D’Antuono said that in more conventional years, the Boys and Girls Clubs hire college students studying early childhood education, child psychology, youth development, or a related field. But this year, staff didn’t return in the numbers she expected.

“There just isn’t a pool out there, and I can only assume they’re collecting unemployment,” she said.

The part-time summer camp counselor position pays $14 per hour and is open to applicants aged 18 and older who have experience working with youth.

Not only is the Boys and Girls Club hiring summer counselors, but is also looking to fill positions for a full-time music director and a full-time youth director position.

For a full description of all positions and to apply, visit www.wbgclubs.org/employment.

The organization advertised the job openings on social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as job posting sites like Indeed. D’Antuono said they even advertised at music colleges throughout the Northeast to get applicants for the music director position.

Because of the shortage of camp counselor staff, D’Antuono was forced to limit enrollment for summer programming. “Our number one concern is safety, and our second concern is quality. Without appropriate staff, we can’t keep kids safe and we need to stay within our ratios to maintain that. I wasn’t comfortable enrolling for a program we can’t staff,” she explained.

The summer camp was capped at 106 students at the Oakland Beach location, and 50 at the Norwood location.

She hopes that unemployment shortages won’t extend to the fall, but said the impact can already been seen, since filling the full-time director positions is proving more challenging than she thought.

“It’s good pay, good benefits, great hours, and a fun job,” she said. “We’re a great place, come work for us!”

Change in requirements

Beginning in late May, the Department of Labor and Training brought back work search requirements. Now, the DLT requires unemployment recipients to look for work, and document any work search related activities. The DLT website says that “while claimants are not asked to submit records to DLT on a weekly basis, your claim may be randomly audited at any time, and at that point you would be required to send DLT records of your work search.”

If work search records aren’t submitted, the recipient may be required to pay back unemployment benefits received during the period they were out of work.

According to the Department of Labor and Training, unemployment recipients must complete three work search related activities per week with three different employers. Those activities include applying for a full-time job, interviewing for a full-time job, or attending a career fair, whether virtually or in person.

Those who have a definite return to work date within 12 weeks from the last day of work, are in vocational training or an adult education program, are a member of a labor union that uses a business agent to find work, or are on a WorkShare are not required to look for work while receiving unemployment benefits.

Even those that are working part time while receiving unemployment are required to apply to three full-time jobs per week. The DLT also mandates that those receiving unemployment cannot refuse a job offer and still receive benefits.

For those that are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants, they are exempt from looking for work if they meet one of several requirements, including being diagnosed with COVID, living in a household with a COVID positive patient, providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID, or directly impact by COVID in other ways.

Challenging, any way you slice it

No matter how he ‘slices’ it, Matt Walker, manager at the new Don’s Pizza, said it’s been challenging to fill positions.

“Hiring has definitely been an issue,” he said in a brief interview on Wednesday. “But the big problem is that many employees are hired virtually or online and not face to face. It’s tough communicating with someone when you haven’t met them in person.”

Walker has been searching for Don’s Pizza delivery drivers for months; a process he said would “only take a few weeks in normal times”.

Walker, who has been in the restaurant industry for over a decade, has been turning to old contacts and colleagues to try to find employees. Other food spots, like Jersey Mike’s Subs or Dunkin, are offering new hires cash bonuses and perks. In one job posting, Jersey Mike’s offered new hires a $500 cash sign-on bonus. But Don’s Pizza, who just reopened their doors in early June, isn’t financially able to offer those incentives.

“We just reopened and we’re so new,” said Walker. “My hope is that once I get drivers, business will ramp up and I’ll be able to offer something like that to other employees.”

In all his years of experience, Walker says finding and hiring employees “is always the worst part.”

To apply for the delivery driver position, contact Walker at (401) 585-1050 or visit Don’s Pizza at 2105 Warwick Ave.

Three students working summer jobs were interviewed for this story, all knew of friends who were not working this summer but could not offer a definitive reason why not.Recent Hendricken grad Cam Hughes, who is managing the fuel dock at Fairwinds Marina, speculated some young people are collecting unemployment. He said he had heard of one youth who applied for a manager’s job at McDonalds knowing he was not qualified for the position so as to demonstrate he had been looking for work.

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