Labor Shortage Struggles
Small businesses are the heart of Iowa's downtowns and local economic power and many are experiencing labor shortages. This shortage has many root causes, but the issues that I have heard time and time again over the past two years include minimum wage, shortened unemployment weeks, and lack of paid sick and family leave.
When we talk about the issues with workers’ minimum wage, we need to recognize that Iowa’s minimum wage, $7.25, has not increased since 2008. Furthermore, our minimum wage is not competitive compared to many surrounding states. This is forcing many of our hardest workers to take better jobs in states with a higher minimum wage.
$7.25 - Iowa, Michigan, & Kansas
$7.85 - Missouri
$8.25 - Illinois
$8.85 - South Dakota
$9.65 - Minnesota
For many people in Iowa working a full-time job year requires public support to meet basic needs as the minimum wage has remained stagnant while the cost of living continues to climb. If we continue to avoid raising the minimum wage, our labor shortage will continue. We need to work collectively with business owners and managers to ensure their profitability while increasing wages to benefit workers, their families, and our communities.
An issue for business owners, especially seasonal business owners, is the new shortened number of unemployment weeks that was passed during last year's session. This change decreased unemployment benefits from twenty weeks to sixteen, creating new problems for many seasonal businesses now unable to fill their workforce. As a result, many projects crucial to the well-being of our communities and to the continuation of seasonal industries are left undone or now require longer work periods. Many Iowan workers took jobs this year that started at or prior to the sixteen week period even though seasonal business simply could not start projects sooner due to the state laws and inclement weather. We need strong businesses in Iowa, and policy makers, businesses, and employees need to be at the table when policy changes are made at the state level to ensure a strong and thriving economy for all Iowans.
Over the last two years, many Iowans are concerned regarding the lack of paid and family leave at many jobs in Iowa. Leave is necessary for many personal, professional, and health related reasons, and Iowan businesses must respect that need or we all will continue suffering. Iowa needs to support our workforce through tough times. The best way to do that is to have employees be able to take paid sick leave or family leave.
Reversing the labor shortage will allow for a stronger workforce and economy in Iowa. To get there we need to focus on increasing workers’ earnings, returning to twenty weeks of unemployment benefits, and implement universal paid sick and family leave for workers in Iowa.