Presentation in support of the Satterfield House project


Job fairs are in the limelight, job advertisements appear in the newspaper, and yet there is a discrepancy between the number of people who are unemployed and unable to find a job and those who are unfilled.

“The vast majority of the companies we spoke to are looking for additional employees,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.

By and large, the nation is getting back to work. The national jobs report was released on Friday and painted a picture of a recovering economy after the White House gave signals that a negative report could be imminent.

To the surprise of some analysts, the economy beat expectations, adding 467,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate was 4%. The employment figures for November and December were also revised upwards.

December, originally reported as gaining 199,000 jobs, rose to 510,000. November rose to 647k from previously under 249k. For these two months, the figures have been revised upwards by 709,000.

North Carolina’s job market also posted notable gains in December, with employment and vacancies growing robustly and labor force participation rising slightly. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 3.7%, nearing pre-pandemic levels.

“Based on information shared with us by companies we’ve met and spoken to, many of them have returned to pre-pandemic employment levels,” Tucker said. “Many are also trying to hire additional workers.”

In December, the latest available data, the unemployment rate for Surry County was 2.8%, Stokes was 2.7%, Yadkin was 2.7%, Wilkes was 3.0% and Alleghany was 3.2%. These are all below the state unemployment rate of 3.7%; this compares to Patrick County, Virginia at 3% and Carroll County at 2.6%.

Fewer candidates, more choice

Among the unemployed, the nationwide number of unemployed rose to 952,000 in January after the number of jobseekers fell in the previous month.

Retail and hospitality were among the areas with the largest attrition. For servers that make do with tips and a $2.13 an hour policy, waiting to reopen has allowed some to go back to school or try a whole new field of work. As restaurants and bars reopened, workers returned in nowhere near the numbers they had left.

Fewer workers and more vacancies mean the nationwide job market is tightening, leading to growing challenges for employers to hire. The declining labor pool has prompted an upward shift in wage rates, which rose 1% in the last quarter of 2021 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some parents leaving the work pool were pushed into teachers overnight and found their time was better spent staying at home. A renewed focus on increased parental oversight of education and school boards has lent credibility to those who see the potential benefits of homeschooling. Since directing their children’s learning was best, a new generation of tutors has emerged.

Another trend continuing across the country is the shift to telecommuting, or working from home. Once only a select few could make the stuff of fables, working from home is becoming a new normal. Friday’s jobs data report listed the percentage of Americans working from home at over 15%, up from 11% in December.

Those transitions have resulted in job openings “in every industry sector, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and service industries,” Tucker said of local job openings. “There are currently over 1,000 job openings in Surry County, according to ncworks.gov.”

who wants to work

However, there are some who give up looking for a job and leave the job market by giving up their job search. There are 1.5 million Americans who were looking for work and available for work who had looked for a job in the previous year but not the month prior to their survey. Also, discouraged workers numbered 408,000, those who believed there were no jobs available for them.

A complaint just as common as empty shelves in the store is that there is no staff there to help. A variation on “no one wants to work anymore” is the common refrain among the frustrated.

“This current job challenge isn’t unique to Surry County,” Tucker said, “it’s happening across the US.” However, many people in the Surry County area want to work, and there are jobs that are available right now.

The NC Department of Commerce has created a regional map of employment trends, including the largest employers and the largest needs. Statewide, one of the greatest employment needs in every county is that of the school system.

In Surry County, the top employers are Hugh Chatham Memorial (140), Northern Regional Hospital (71), PruittHealth (41), and Asplundh (30).

Regionally, Novant Health, Hanesbrands, Wake Forest University, McDonalds, Food Lion and Anthem Inc. are listed as having the greatest need for new employees. Novant needs more than 800 workers, Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools have 400 vacancies, and Food Lions in the area are currently hiring over 250 workers.

NCWorks goes into detail and outlines which areas are most in demand, and healthcare tops the list. Nurses of all kinds are in demand: RNs, LPNs and Nursing Assistants are wanted far and wide.

Labor force participation is still lower than two years ago, with some workers taking the pandemic as an opportunity to re-evaluate and perhaps re-evaluate their relationship with their employer. As a workforce returns to pre-COVID unemployment levels, the rate of those returning to work does not match employers’ needs.

It is an advantageous time to be in the labor market due to increasing wages, the wide range of jobs in different fields and employers willing to look for candidates with different levels of experience. With a gap between labor supply and demand, more ads for those seeking help will follow.

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