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Springfield officials are in 'triage' as workers quit jobs in record numbers

State Journal Register

Thursday, January 13, 2022  |  Article  |  Andrew Adams

Economic Development (35)

It’s been happening for months. More people are leaving their jobs than ever before.

Workers are leaving to find better opportunities — jobs with better hours, higher pay or a different mission. This means businesses are starting to rethink their practices to meet updated payroll needs or attract workers. Major changes in public policy may be on the way if this reimagining of the workplace continues. 

November, the most recent month for which there is data, set a record with 4.5 million people choosing to leave their jobs in the United States. It broke the previous record, which was set in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In Springfield, officials are doing their best to make sure that the unstable labor market doesn’t shutter more businesses. 

“We’ve been a giant triage unit,” said Ravi Doshi, who works in the city of Springfield’s economic development office.

Doshi said the new balance of power has caused there to be a labor shortage “across every industry” in Springfield. This has caused businesses to rethink their strategies and practices. 

“It’s a very delicate and sensitive situation right now,” Doshi said. 

The city of Springfield has entered into arrangements with a variety of public and private groups to offer resources to local businesses to stay open and to adapt to the changing economy. For some businesses, the problem is as basic as having enough cash to pay employees. 

To combat this, the city-approved a microloan program administered by Justine Petersen, a financial institution specializing in working with low- and moderate-income people. 

These microloans are designed to go to businesses which cannot get loans through traditional banking institutions. The majority of loans in Springfield have gone to Black business owners.

Other programs include partnerships with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Black Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Springfield, Inc., Innovate Springfield and specialized resources from the Springfield Small Business Development Center, a program funded by the federal Small Business Administration. 

Still, the effects of this shift will be felt by residents. 

“We’re gonna see less one-to-one and direct service,” he said, adding that hospitals and clinics are feeling particularly worn down. 

“The medical industry is being completely overwhelmed,” he said. 

Moving forward, Doshi said the city and its businesses will need a set of dynamic solutions to the problems revealed by the shifting labor pool. As soon as one aspect of it is addressed, another is exposed. 

“On a cold night, it’s like having a blanket that’s too small to cover your head and your feet,” he said. 

Who's going to watch the kids? 

Having adequate child care is one of the things exacerbating the issues facing workers and families, motivating people to quit jobs, transfer positions and ask for more consistent hours at work. 

Julie Riech is the director of Calvary Day Care in Springfield. She has worked there for almost 15 years. She said that though there have been issues hiring qualified staff for years, the last two years has made them worse. 

"I feel like I'm always looking for someone," Riech said. She has had multiple people quit after working for just a few days recently. A big part of the problem is low pay.

Day care workers at Calvary and other licensed providers are paid between $13 and $16 an hour in this area depending on what child care center they work for, their qualifications and whether they have pursued optional credentials, according to Riech.

In the Springfield area, average entry-level positions for child care workers was $9.63 while experienced workers made an average of $12.33 in 2020, according to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Preschool teachers made between $10.25 and 15.49 in the same period. 

"We no longer have any minimum wage teachers," Riech said. The change was made in 2020, after the pandemic upended the childcare industry, though Riech said she had been working to raise teacher pay before the pandemic came. 

People going back to work is putting further strain on a child care system that is already on the edge. 

"We have a waitlist that's rather long," Riech said. "I get several calls every day with people looking for day care." 

Waiting lists in town can go well into 2023 and 2024.

Calvary Day Care's rates for services range from $224 per week for infants to $78 per week for kindergarten-age before and after school care. 

Affordability is a key factor in the issues facing parents looking for child care, particularly as many still recover from unstable employment during the pandemic.  

In early December, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced $300 million in relief grants which will go to making child care more affordable. 

But the issue is persisting in Springfield. 

"Adequate child care is an area that is in the top two — if not the top most important area — for people returning to work," Doshi said.