COVID-19 and the Devastating Unemployment Rates Affecting Numerous Businesses Throughout Wisconsin

New variants of the virus are continuing to cause adversity in the workplace and leave minimum-wage jobs with insufficient staffing.

COVID-19 and the Devastating Unemployment Rates Affecting Numerous Businesses Throughout Wisconsin

With the emergence of the Omicron variant significantly impacting the United States, numerous employers are remaining without sufficient staffing. Since March of 2020, the unemployment rate throughout the nation has crucially devastated businesses and continues to currently as new variants are discovered. Due to the pandemic, many small businesses have been run to the ground without sufficient income, leaving many unemployed and losing their jobs. Few smaller businesses and large corporations have been able to survive, yet it’s reported that employers still are faced with shortages.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, job availability has increased as businesses begin to reclaim themselves and expand income. However, unemployment rates provided by the federal government have out ruled most minimum-wage incomes, deterring individuals from taking jobs that would otherwise provide less money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Wisconsin citizens accessing unemployment are making upwards of $54 per day, which is a substantial amount in comparison to rates that employees of many retail locations and restaurants are given. 

“Early pandemic people were literally making more on unemployment than I was working 40 hours a week. Personally, I think that drove a lot of people to take unemployment,” Ben Jacobson, a supervisor at MOD Pizza in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, reported.

In July of 2020, there were an estimated 16.9 million people in the United States that were unemployed, making it difficult for businesses to run efficiently without the required support. Many of these absences were due to business closures, causing these rates to be higher, yet a majority were due to losing net worth for the company.

“There had been times when I would be working four-hour periods by myself because there was no one else available to work,” stated Olive Dybing, a shift lead at Starbucks in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The introduction of the pandemic had primarily targeted retail and food service jobs, as many stores were forced to close after losing vast income and employees. However, these jobs were hard to fill prior to the pandemic, as minimum wage in Wisconsin for many of these jobs was low, approximately $7.25 per hour in some locations, giving people less motive to apply for these positions. 

“Frankly, it’s been hard staffing in retail and foodservice before the pandemic, but the pandemic just forced a mass exodus of employees, forcing us to try to hire faster, but now you’ve got restaurants that need to hire five to eight people with two people applying,” Jacobson explained.

Though this area has primarily been a difficult profession for hiring efficiently, since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a substantial decline in the number of teachers, essentially substitutes. In the Madison area, the Madison Metropolitan School District had to resort to online learning due to standard classroom teachers not being able to fill their positions when absent.

Further, throughout the United States, the rate of substitute teachers had decreased tremendously, causing teachers to use their prep periods to fill in for an absent teacher if there are no substitutes available in the building. 

In DeForest Area High School, located in DeForest, Wisconsin, there has been reported a substitute teacher shortage throughout the building and the entirety of the district.

“The low number of substitutes covering for teacher absences has led to teachers having to sub during their prep time,” Pheng Lee, the principal of DeForest High School, reported.

In many instances, this significantly impacts the education of students in these classes, as it is often that these teachers are not qualified to teach in those particular subjects. The classes are often converted into study halls, which restrict the time for students to engage in class lessons and often puts the teachers’ curriculum behind their intended schedule.

There has not been an uptick in applicants for these positions, leaving many schools devastated without the necessary teachers to fill absences.

“We have brainstormed for ideas as a whole district on how to increase the number of substitute teachers but have struggled to find people who want to sub.  We are continuing to look for ways to increase the substitute pool so we’re hoping to have more for the second semester,” Lee noted.

However, some major conglomerates and corporations have been able to sustain their employees throughout the duration of the pandemic. Vault Strategies, a health insurance corporation, has dealt with temporary absences in the office, yet has not halted the company’s work.

“We did experience fewer applicants for open positions, however, we were able to fill each opening in time.  The employees we hired were all within our main office and with the exception of an employee illness, we have been at full staff in the office,” Frank Zawlocki, the Chief Executive Officer of Vault Strategies, described.

As the Omicron variant continues to surge through the United States, it is possible to see another fall in employment rates throughout the coming months. Larger corporations are more likely to survive through devastation by holding larger income in savings, yet not maintaining employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics displays a notable increase in employment throughout Wisconsin, yet there is the chance of another recession as the virus continues to mutate and spread rapidly through communities.