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  • Last modified 140 days ago (July 18, 2019)

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Businesses struggle to hire staff

Staff writer

Unemployment for Marion County dipped below 3% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics but it wasn’t good for area businesses.

The lack of potential employees hit hard for places like Carlson’s Grocery and Ampride, which found themselves looking for workers for months.

They weren’t the only ones searching, with Dale’s Supermarket, Dollar General stores in Marion County, and Casey’s in Marion and Hillsboro all displaying help wanted posters in recent months.

Some level of unemployment is a necessity because it means people are looking for jobs, said Jacqueline Michael-Midkiff, a regional economist for Kansas with BLS.

“If we don’t have any people unemployed then there’s no labor market for the businesses needing to fill jobs,” she said. “If everyone is employed, how do you add new jobs?”

Carlsons’ Grocery co-owner Greg Carlson is familiar with the struggle of filling positions.

“It’s really difficult right now,” he said.

The hours invested in training can sometimes end up wasted, Carlson said.

“That’s bad too, when you sit there and train them for 40 or 60 hours, and then they decide it isn’t what they want to do,” he said.

In the case of Hillsboro Ampride, the pay is $8 an hour, but there is a limit on how much else Gadiss can offer.

“It’s above minimum wage, but everyone wants $10, $11 and hour,” she said. “They want full time and benefits.”

BLS does not specify what qualifies as full employment, but other organizations often use a number close to 3% to signify full employment, Michael-Midkiff said.

May’s numbers have been consistent over the past few years, with county unemployment at 2.9% this year, 2.8% in May 2018, and 3.3 % in May 2017.

Comparing the same month from multiple years is most effective because it removes fluctuation from factors like seasonal work.

“There are times when unemployment is higher because of seasonal changes we know will happen,” Michael-Midkiff said. “We know after the holidays at the end of the year a bunch of people get laid off because a lot of hirings happen every year for holiday shopping.”

For Carlson, the worrisome seasonal shift takes place at the beginning of the school year, when the availability of high school employees decreases.

“Some of my stress right now is the kids going back to school,” he said. “Most people don’t want a part-time job, and that’s what I have to offer.”

Hillsboro Ampride manager Cindy Gadiss has the opposite problem with school, since summer vacation removes much of her potential workforce.

“We rely a lot on the college for business and workers, the whole nine yards,” she said. “We’re a little different from Marion because we’re right next to campus. As soon as college lets out, I lose a lot of help for the summer.”

Finding employees becomes more difficult because Ampride sells alcohol, so high schoolers aren’t an option, Gaddis said.

“You have to be 18 and pass a drug test,” she said. “That stuff will break it for a lot of people.”

Last modified July 18, 2019

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