Despite low unemployment, staff shortages remain a problem at local and national level

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – Unemployment rates remain low nationally and in Virginia; however, many companies continue to struggle with a significant understaffing.

The Shenandoah Valley Partnership said that was because unemployment rates did not take into account those who had left the workforce and were not looking for work.

“Unemployment does not take into account the total labor force. It only takes into account those who want to get a job, and that’s what counts in the labor force participation rate,” said Jay Langston, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership.

The Shenandoah Valley Partnership works with businesses in all sectors to encourage economic growth in the Shenandoah Valley region.

Langston said there are a variety of factors contributing to the number of people leaving the workforce. One important factor is the number of baby boomers who left the workforce after COVID.

“There just aren’t as many young people to fill these jobs. We see in particular here in the Valley that this is good news, bad news. Our economic growth has continued, so there is a need for additional jobs,” Langston said.

Another factor is that many families who can afford it operate on one salary, as many jobs cannot meet rising costs due to inflation.

“There are people who say, ‘I can stay home with the kids. We’ll just get by on one paycheck,’ because what it would cost for childcare, transportation, just getting there and back at work, will it cover those kinds of costs?” says Langston.

Langston said the Shenandoah Valley is faring much better than most parts of the state and country economically.

“We haven’t suffered as much as a lot of areas here in Virginia and across the country. Part of the dynamic of that is that one of the very important economic drivers in our region is food and beverage. People are going to eat; people are going to consume drinks. It is a dominant industry in our region,” he said.

Augusta, Page, Rockingham, and Shenandoah counties are four of the five largest agricultural producing counties in the state.

Although doing better than other regions, the Valley still has significant understaffing issues, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

“There are approximately 3,100 unclassified manufacturing jobs in the region. That’s kind of a staggering number when you consider the economic impact of what those 3,100 jobs would mean,” Langston said.

Langston added that the staffing situation will not end with the pandemic and reflects a demographic shift in the workforce.

“We don’t see it ending, but it’s a problem that we’re lucky to have a growing population. We are steadily increasing that total labor force, albeit slowly, but we are a rural area that benefits from growth,” he said.

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