La Crosse businesses feel effects of labor shortage

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact businesses across the nation.

English Lutheran Church in La Crosse hosted a Community Conversation Wednesday about the pandemic and what it means for the economy.

“Think about it. In no time in our history have we had that kind of a massive dislocation of labor. Even in the great depression, it was a slower dislocation than this,” said T.J. Brooks, interim dean at UW-La Crosse’s College of Business Administration.

Speakers presented data showing that, while more people are heading back to work, the lingering labor shortage is still forcing businesses to reduce hours and even change hiring strategies.

Here in La Crosse, when fully-staffed, Fayze’s has 70-75 employees. Currently, it has only 40-45.

“Right now, it’s difficult to find people, and it’s difficult to find the right people,” said Fayze’s owner Drew Williams.

The restaurant used to be open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“We’re currently closed Monday and Tuesday, we’re only open for dinner Friday nights currently. And part of that is staffing. If we had staff, we’d expand our hours a little bit more. But with the current staff, we don’t want to wear them out and make it less desirable to come to work,” Williams said.

Teresa Pierce, the executive director of Workforce Connections, presented a July study from Indeed that broke down why people aren’t urgently seeking employment. People taking the survey were allowed to choose multiple reasons.

  • 10% were receiving unemployment insurance benefits.
  • 17% were worried about caregiving responsibilities.
  • 21% already had a financial cushion in place.
  • 18% had a spouse with stable income.
  • 17% were concerned about COVID-19.

Pierce said she thinks virus fears have risen since then and will continue to keep people from working.

“Working through this virus helps us work through the economy, and it just can’t be stated any clearer than that,” Pierce said.

Brooks also said tha,t to economists, a labor shortage means wages are too low, so businesses need to increase pay to keep up.

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