Desperate worker shortage needs solution — and fast, Ernst says


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The ISD Editorial Board explains why people aren’t returning to work now that COVID-19 unemployment programs are ending in many states. 

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JEFFERSON, Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says the long-running but increasingly urgent workforce shortage doesn’t stem from a lack of jobs, as there are hundreds available now in Carroll and Greene counties.

It’s a lack of workers, Ernst told the Iowa State Daily and other media during an interview in Jefferson Tuesday morning.

“It truly is about finding the workforce, period,” Ernst said. “That’s an issue everywhere I go. I have not had one employer say, ‘I’ve got way too many employees.’”

Based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa’s unemployment marks at 3 percent — a decrease from January’s 3.7 percent and lower than the nation’s 3.6 percent.

Ernst said in respect to rural Iowa communities; it is harder to get workers to want to work and live in more remote reaches of the nation as opposed to metropolitan areas.

Ernst said among other concerns, she often hears concerns about travel from Iowa workers, especially in the wake of increased fuel prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Sometimes it is transportation costs, I’m hearing that a lot right now, especially for the folks who are commuting longer distances — it’s getting unaffordable for them,” Ernst said. “Child care is probably the second issue I hear the most from employees.”

Ernst said through the pandemic, many child care facilities had to close, which took the already struggling state of child care into a worse position.

In Greene County, there are 10 registered child care providers. In Carroll County, there are 36 registered child care providers. In Story County, there are 90 registered child care providers — 39 of them in Ames. 

Ernst said she worked with her colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, to try to find solutions to solve the childcare crisis that is taking place nationally. She is focusing on employee benefits, as well as access to capital.

“They need to be able to expand facilities, and some of our child care operators are non-governmental organizations, or they’re religious affiliated, and they were not able to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration,” Ernst said. “So one thing we have done, I have a bill that would open up the SBA to non-governmental organizations — charities, religious-affiliated organizations — they would able to apply through the SBA because trying to get a hold of capital to expand is really difficult for some of those organizations.”

With national attention being brought to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Ernst said there needs to be reasonable discussion from both parties to prevent such massacres from continuing to occur.

“I do think that we need to bring all different ideas to the table, and take a look at will this actually solve the problem without infringing on Second Amendment rights,” Ernst said.

Ernst spotlighted mental health as a factor in the Robb Elementary School shooting.

“People don’t like us talking about mental-health issues, but obviously if somebody is going into a school and committing that type of atrocity, there’s something wrong there, and why was it not caught? Why was it not prevented?” Ernst said.