Here is a difficult admission that many of you are probably aware of — we are having trouble getting the newspaper delivered every morning.
Our dilemma is the same one facing area restaurants, shops and contractors. There are not enough people for all of the jobs that are now available.
The world has been turned upside down by COVID. The government has tried to respond swiftly, but in doing so they have implemented a ‘one-size-fits-all” solution. What may be necessary in California is not the same response as is now needed in Florida.
The supplemental unemployment benefits pushed down by the federal government were necessary and appreciated in the middle of the pandemic. The benefits pay an additional $300 a week on top of regular unemployment compensation. People needed help and many jobs just shut down.
Now that Florida is returning to work, the additional unemployment pay serves as a barrier to people rejoining the workforce.
Restaurants have been forced to reduce operating hours or days because of a worker shortage. McDonald’s has had to close the walk-in portion of the store. A new restaurant remodeled in Floral City has delayed its opening because they cannot pull a staff together. And I have 18 newspaper carrier positions open and am having incredible difficulty getting the paper delivered each morning.
Running a newspaper route is a tough job with not a whole lot of appreciation. Our carriers begin their work in the middle of the night and finish right before the sun comes up. Most people are waking up while the carriers are getting ready for bed.
The carriers are some of the hardest workers I have in the entire company and they are doing everything they can right now to get the newspaper delivered.
I say this from experience. My first job in the newspaper business was delivering Newsday on Long Island when I was just a kid. While I put myself through college in Florida, I got up in the middle of the night and delivered the Tampa Tribune. I would sleep for two hours and go off to class.
Like many other service jobs, carriers are dependent on a combination of pay and tips from the customer’s they serve. However, unlike servers in restaurants, they do not see the customer when they deliver the product, so tips are not an ordinary thing.
I can already hear the critics — if you just doubled the pay of the carriers, you could fill all the jobs. But that would mean I would have to double the cost of the newspaper, and how many of you would honestly keep your newspaper delivery if the cost doubled?
There is a delicate balance in all of this — especially in a cost-conscious community like Citrus County. All sorts of businesses are struggling to fill empty jobs and find a new balance. At the same time, we all fight to hold prices down so consumers can afford the product.
Higher pay for employees is a good thing, but we all need to understand that means a higher cost of living for everyone. That includes restaurant workers, grocery clerks and newspaper carriers.
I do not have all answers, but I do know the $300 extra payment on top of regular unemployment compensation is absolutely stopping workers from re-entering the workforce. For families, the lack of expanded childcare services is another barrier.
The federal unemployment bump is scheduled to end in September, but it needs to stop now.
If businesses fail because of a lack of an available workforce, the long-term recovery of Citrus County and the rest of Florida will be stalled or even derailed. And that will eventually hurt everyone.
We all want life to get back to near normal. Paying a portion of the workforce to stay home no longer makes sense.
Sorry to be so serious on a Sunday morning, but this has to be resolved.
And I am sorry for your late paper.
Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at email@example.com.