Where is the workforce? COVID-19 pandemic tops the list of worries

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A worker shortage continues to impact many industries, impacting all of us. But it isn't just because people aren't returning to work.

A record number of people are quitting.

Action News has uncovered the top reasons, the first being COVID-19 worries. Specifically, people are concerned about their health and safety.

Evie Samuel quit her job in October 2020 to start her own outdoor business called Evie's Cleaning Supplies.

"I did research on what the community needs," she said. "There was a need to get cleaning supplies. I was able to find them when others couldn't find them."

Samuel has a master's degree and worked a number of jobs, including that of a corrections officer and manager of a home health care office. She was working for a nonprofit when the pandemic hit.

"I quit because I didn't want to contract COVID," she said. "And I was so afraid of getting infected because I did lose a brother to COVID-19."

In August, a record-breaking 759,000 workers quit their jobs in the Northeast. That's up 18.2 percent from the 642,000 people who quit in July. The national number of people who quit was also historic at 4.3 million in August.

"I've been doing this for 26 years. It's the most difficult time in my history in this business," said Tony Altomare of Tony Roni's Pizza.

Altomare has eight locations and is grateful for a core group of workers who stuck with him and his company.

"Thank God. They've been through the thick and thin with us," he said.

But replacing those who've left isn't easy.

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"Getting people to come in to interview is hard in itself in the restaurant industry, especially because everyone, you know, they're in high demand," he said.

And that is impacting business, causing food and delivery delays and prompting anger from customers.

"On Friday night, we usually have eight to nine drivers. Right now we're running with five to six," he said.

Government checks encouraged many to stay at home.

"How the government has reacted has almost made people feel entitled to stay at home because we're giving them checks for such a long period of time," said Altomare. "When everything got shut down, I think people felt that they could stay home and didn't want to work anymore."

A number of benefits have now expired and job experts believe a major current factor driving people to leave the workforce is continuing coronavirus fears compounded by the delta variant.

"So they're feeling as though their health is at risk, or they're coming home to either young children that are not vaccinated or elderly parents that they're also responsible for," said Kristin Kane Ford of Kane Partners LLC, which is a staffing agency.

The restaurant and hospitality industry has been hit hardest. The number of people who quit those jobs was up 21 percent in August from the month before.

As COVID-19 cases surged that same month, nearly 900,000 workers across the country left restaurants, bars, and hotels.

"It's either close quarters, or they aren't requiring masks or the vaccine," said Kane Ford.

Many, like Samuel, are opting for work outdoors.

"These same guys are doing landscaping and they're doing construction," said Altomare.

To find workers, Altomare is now getting creative.

"I'm creating a pamphlet that's going to go on my pizza boxes, trying to hire people. We're giving incentives to our employees to bring people in. We're giving a $200 incentive to work at Tony Roni's," he said.

Meantime, Samuel said she won't return to the traditional workforce any time soon.

"I always wanted to be self-employed so this was my edge to become self-employed," she said.
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