‘Very few places are paying minimum wage’: Kentucky’s struggle to fix its labor shortage

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 10:55 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Now hiring signs line the streets of Central Kentucky.

Signing bonuses and higher wages are used as an incentive at many local businesses.

Governor Andy Beshear is expected to announce a plan to encourage Kentuckians to get back to work.

Steve McClain, director of communications and public affairs at the Kentucky Retail Federation said people are back to shopping and eating out, but stores are forced to get creative to bring more employees in.

“Very few places are paying minimum wage,” he said. “A lot of them are going double, more than that.”

He said stores are seeing fewer applicants.

“During a joint interim committee that we testified at last week, one of the lawmakers talked about a Dairy Queen that offered $16 an hour, but nobody applied for it,” he said.

McClain said people are staying home for more reasons than unemployment money.

“It’s everything from childcare issues, which, that’s a very complicated issue that’s going to take lots of ideas to try to figure out how to resolve that, we’ve seen people that have retired, they were at retirement age before the pandemic, but they kept working, then during the pandemic they decided to retire, there’s not as many teens in the workforce as there were, say, years ago,” he said.

McClain said some are tired of being mistreated.

“We have people saying, ‘I like retail… but I’m not going to put myself in harm’s way of people that are just rude, violent,’” he said.

Others, like Barbara O’Neill, are staying home for different reasons.

“I was afraid to get COVID,” she said.

She said she left her job at the Russell County Detention Center in December, and filed for unemployment in the same month.

“Time kept going by and I wasn’t hearing anything,” she said. “I was checking on the website, and it was all 0s they had paid out to me.”

She said her emails went unanswered, calls put her on a queue, and a letter went without a response. She said, to date, she hasn’t received any money.

O’Neill said she’s also tried making an in-person appointment with no success. In the meantime, she’s trying to find work.

“I have been turned down for jobs and I actually did go for an interview today,” she said.

The Kentucky Retail Federation is calling on Governor Andy Beshear to create a plan.

“Some kind of option that would pay folks that, if they go back to work and stay at it for a while, and what we’ve looked at was other states that have put these initiatives in place, they may have to work full time for 12 weeks or something, and then they get a bonus from the state for working there,” McClain said.

Kentuckians like O’Neill are still waiting to rebound.

“I hear all the negative comments on Facebook, ‘All these lazy people, they need to get back to work, getting that unemployment,’ but how many people are not getting it?,” she said.

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