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Local lawmakers disagree on cause and solutions to worker shortage

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Two Rockford senators weigh in on the worker shortage impacting local companies.

On Tuesday, we told you Rockford job staffing agencies said they couldn't fill positions for stateline companies. They blamed it on increased income from federal unemployment benefits.

On Wednesday, we spoke to our legislators, who differ on the cause of the worker shortage and how to fix it.

COVID-19 forced many people out of work, but now helped wanted signs line storefronts.

Consider the state's latest unemployment numbers from March. The Rockford area sits at 8.1 percent, nearly double the unemployment rate compared to this time last year.

But local legislators have different reasons for why that is.

Republican Senator Dave Syverson says federal unemployment benefits are more attractive than working. Democratic Senator Steve Stadelman says the pandemic has changed people's attitudes about work in general.

"If you're able to collect $14 to $16 dollars an hour from the government for not working, that's not much of an incentive for people to get back to work," Syverson explains.

"I still think there's a concern about people's health and that's preventing some people from returning to the workforce and you have people that have child care issues and they need to stay home for whatever reason so that may inhibit their ability to return to work," Stadelman counters.

But the question remains, how do you fill job openings locally?

Syverson suggests a modification.

"If you're able to work and there's jobs open, you should be doing those," Syverson says. "It should've been a program strictly earmarked for those who couldn't find work or are not able to work."

As of Wednesday afternoon, nine states have already ended some unemployment assistance programs (for different reasons). Syverson says that isn't likely to happen in Illinois, which he says could cause tax increases down the road.

But Stadelman says the solution is easier to get people to return to work now.

"If you pay people more, you're going to have more people willing to take those jobs and that could help solve your problem," Stadelman says.

But Stadelman adds the public health crisis with the coronavirus is something we need to watch closely over the summer before making drastic moves to our economy.

In the meantime, Syverson says the state's unemployment trust fund, which companies pay into for unemployment benefits, is in the red. And that's why those tax increases he mentioned could be on the horizon.

But Stadelman thinks the federal government should step in and help since a public health crisis is to blame for what's happened to that fund in the past year.

And while companies, staffing agencies, and governments grapple with the worker shortage, one thing that's clear is the coronavirus is having continuing impacts on our economy.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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