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Jobs In Baltimore County Go Unfilled Even As COVID Conditions Improve

Sharon Andrews owns Ships Cafe in Catonsville.
John Lee
Sharon Andrews owns Ships Cafe in Catonsville.

People are not rejoining the workforce for a variety of reasons.

Along Frederick Road in Catonsville, there are help wanted signs dotting the windows of restaurants and bars.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic is easing, thousands of Baltimore County residents are not going back to work.

Business owners and government officials are trying to figure out how to get those unemployed people back in the work force.

Sharon Andrews, who owns Ships Café in Catonsville, said, “We can’t hire anybody. Nobody wants to work.”

She said before the pandemic she had a waiting list of people who wanted a job. Now she has six vacancies she can’t fill. She’s had to cut back hours.

“We can get bussers and hostesses, but we can’t get line cooks or dish washers,” Andrews said. “And a lot of the guys that worked here before, we’ve called and they’re not returning our calls because they’re making money on unemployment.”

During the pandemic, unemployment checks have been bigger. Also, people collecting the benefit have not been required to show they’re looking for work. Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan said that requirement will be back in place soon. He said he’s hearing from business owners across the state.

“It’s not just anecdotal,” Hogan said. “There’s no question there are some people that have made the decision to stay home and to collect unemployment rather than returning to work. We hear that every day from hundreds of people.”

Mike Ricci, the governor’s communications director, tells WYPR that the work search requirement should be back in place by late June.

While that may push people collecting unemployment checks to look for a job, there are others for whom it won’t. According to the county, there are about 30,000 fewer residents who are working now than when the COVID-19 pandemic started. More than 22,000 of them are not collecting unemployment and have dropped off the radar.

Towson University economist Daraius Irani said there has been a dramatic increase nationally in the number of people who are jobless but not being counted. He said they include women who dropped out of the labor force when schools closed, and they didn’t have childcare.

“But then other individuals, such as individuals who work for restaurants, their jobs disappeared, so they are not actively looking for work,” Irani said.

He added those jobs pay low wages and rely on tips from fewer customers. Others are hesitant about rejoining the workforce after months of sheltering from COVID-19.

Leonard Howie, Baltimore County’s economic development director, said the county wants to find those uncounted people to either help them get work or train for the jobs that are available.

“Anything that requires the people to get out, interact, and to move things around in this new economy, that’s where it’s really heating up,” Howie said.

For instance, jobs as truck drivers, in distribution warehouses, and onloading and offloading ships at Tradepoint Atlantic in Eastern Baltimore County.

One small business in Catonsville had no trouble filling a vacancy. Brian Higgins is the general manager of Bill’s Music.

“We put an ad in a couple of weeks ago, and yeah we got a ton of responses, quite a bit of them, more than I could actually go through, and a lot of really good, qualified responses,” Higgins said.

Howie expects the county’s economic development department to be a lot busier finding people jobs in the months ahead once its three career centers reopen and the work search requirement is reinstated for those on unemployment.

“Our job is to make sure we connect them to the opportunities that are out there and that we work hard to actually grow the opportunities as well,” Howie said.

For Sharon Andrews at Ships Café, that can’t come soon enough.

“People want to come out and have parties,” she said. “I’m like, we really can’t, we just don’t have enough people to wait on you or cook for you.”

Baltimore County’s unemployment rate stands at 6.3% Just before the pandemic, it was half that.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2