Jackson, Mississippi – Katrina Folks says she has tried everything she can think of to find work since she lost her job in September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 39-year-old mother from Hattiesburg was doing data entry at a law firm and has health issues that require her to work from home. She said she does three interviews a week and bought WiFi and a computer to try and become a better candidate for the job. But she hasn’t been able to find a job that would suit her weekly doctor’s appointments.
“Every time I make a request and they call me it seems like I hit a brick wall,” she said.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced on May 10 that Mississippi would withdraw from the federal supplement of $ 300 per week for people who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other programs offering a extended support for the unemployed.
At least 24 Republican-led US states have now decided to, months before they expire in September 2021. That means millions of people will lose their support. People in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the country with the lowest paying jobs, will be among the first to lose benefits.
People said the governor’s decision meant his current weekly check of $ 491 would come to naught. “I’m terrified, to be honest,” she said. “I can’t live on this.”
“You can’t get people to come to work”
About 90,000 people were receiving the $ 300 unemployment supplement for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic in early May, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Reeves, a Republican, said he made the decision to stop accepting the federal supplement after consulting with business owners and employees.
Even though most capacity restrictions and other coronavirus regulations have been lifted for businesses, they are still unable to fully recover as theysaid Erma Cook, director of the re-employment assistance office at the Mississippi Department of Job Security.
“Employers are reaching out to us asking for more help because they have work available, but they haven’t had people interviewing for positions,” Cook said. “They don’t have the workers to provide the service they are providing.”
The ministry has taken to social media in recent weeks to encourage companies to report applicants who turn down job offers while continuing to collect unemployment. The state has set up an online portal where employers can submit applicants for investigation. Cook says the reports have increased since the state started pushing employers to do so.
Charita McCarrol is the Human Resources Manager at Great Southern Industries, a packaging company in Jackson. She said she had used the state portal for reporting and saw a lot of people abusing the system.
“You can’t get people to come to work,” McCarrol said. “It has been an absolute nightmare in the world of recruiting agencies.”
McCarrol’s company has approximately 69 of its 89 positions filled. Sometimes he can’t run all his machines because he doesn’t have enough employees or he has to close a shift. Supervisors operate machines and drive forklifts because they cannot find people to fill the positions.
At the Half Shell Oyster House seafood restaurant in Flowood, manager Jalen Loggins said he had had similar experiences. The restaurant is recruiting for all positions.
“We had people who showed up for orientation, did the 2.5 hour orientation, and then never showed up,” he said.
Fully staffed, when there is a higher salary
Like many companies, Half Shell launched an incentive program, offering a $ 300 signing bonus and another $ 300 after three months. Other places are taking even more creative approaches to attracting employees.
MGM Resorts International and Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi hosted a career fair featuring ice sculptures and live dancers. The Shrimp Basket restaurant chain is raffling off a new car. Jackson Restaurant owner Jeff Good hosted a rental carnival with games, balloons, and ice cream.
Workers are demanding more than they were before the pandemic, employers say.
Matt Roberts, general manager of Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach, said the restaurant was fully staffed as it increased the guaranteed salary to $ 15 an hour for each full-time position, adding medical, visual and dental benefits. Biloxi Restaurant is one of Shaggy’s five locations and has approximately 90 employees.
“There are a lot of restaurants on the coast that have to close on certain days of the week because they don’t have enough employees who want to be paid, you know, $ 7.25 an hour to cook in the kitchen. Roberts said.
He said he wanted employees to know they are appreciated. “Have a little empathy, you know?” Roberts said. “We just want to ensure that employees have a decent salary where they not only take care of themselves, but they can take care of their families.”
People said she was losing hope of finding a job before the June 12 deadline. Tasks like shopping for clothes for her 11-year-old son became stressful.
“I literally have to go to churches and beg them to help me,” she said. “It’s embarrassing, I’ve worked my whole life, and now I have to ask people for help, and I’m not the type to do that.”
People said there was a misconception that people still unemployed because of the pandemic are lazy and don’t want to work. She said it wasn’t true for her.
“I’m just stuck between a rock and a tough place right now,” Folks said. “I feel like there is no way out of this.”