Better Life Home Care LLC co-owner Brian Schurgin is pictured with his sister, Debbie. Labor shortages have become an issue for Better Life, as well as other employers in Michigan.

Better Life Home Care LLC co-owner Brian Schurgin is pictured with his sister, Debbie. Labor shortages have become an issue for Better Life, as well as other employers in Michigan.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Labor shortages making it tough on businesses

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published June 17, 2021

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METRO DETROIT — Those who have recently looked to purchase a home may have noticed that the available supply isn’t exactly plentiful.

Likewise, employers seeking employees to help fill positions have discovered that the number of interested applicants has been dwindling, which has created labor shortages in the state.

Brian Schurgin is a co-owner of Better Life Home Care LLC in Farmington Hills.

He said Better Life, which helps place caregivers in people’s homes, has “incurred a hit financially.”

Schurgin attributed it to an inability to hire caregivers.

“We can’t help people right now because of the shortage,” he said. “In May, we lost the ability to service five full-time accounts. … We missed out on a huge opportunity because there were 20 employees that we needed in the month of May to hire, and there wasn’t any available.”

Schurgin said Better Life has been in business for over 10 years and “we’ve never seen anything like this before.”

The issue of labor shortages in Michigan hasn’t gone unnoticed in Lansing.

As easy as it may be to point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the root of the problem, from the perspective of Susan Corbin, who is the acting director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, there’s more to it than that.

“I think in Michigan, we knew we had some workforce challenges, and some of those challenges existed prior to the pandemic,” Corbin said. “We knew that our labor supply was relatively weak. We saw that before the pandemic, and of course that was only exacerbated in this past year and some months, when nearly 250,000 Michigan workers fell out of the labor market.”

Corbin cited an aging population in Michigan, in which people are retiring and leaving the workforce early, and a “kind of talent mismatch” as a couple of reasons for the labor shortages in the state.

“We (had) been hearing from employers prior to the pandemic that they were having trouble identifying people in their local communities who have the right skills for the jobs that they had available,” she said.

Perhaps in an indirect way, the labor shortage issue has affected Jim Cassar, who owns Little Hoppers Daycare in West Bloomfield, which he operates at his home.

“I have assistant caregivers. However, I haven’t looked to hire anybody new because, at this point, there’s not a lot of interest in people bringing kids to day care,” Cassar said. “I’m guessing it’s because they’re not working.”

Corbin said the base rate for unemployment in Michigan is $357 per week, with an additional $300 per week coming in federal dollars for those collecting it.

From Schurgin’s perspective, the amount of money people are collecting in unemployment could be contributing to the labor shortage problem. He offered what he considers a solution to help fix it.

“I think that if people were incentivized to work, and got a $300-a-month check if they had a job, from the government, it might create a solution to our current problem, and the problem that my friends that own restaurants are seeing, (and) other companies, where they have laborers that are $12-$15 an hour workers making more with unemployment and the extrahttp://mitalent.org,” Schurgin said. “So, if I paid $600 a week in a 40-hour week, making $15 an hour, and they were able to get another $300, that might be enough for them to say, ‘Hey, it makes more sense for me to go to work now.’”

Schurgin said it was this April or May that labor shortages started to become a problem.

Despite offering free training, signing bonuses and “all sorts of referral programs,” he said, “we’re still struggling to find employees.”

Some of the old standbys for attracting employees, such as placing advertisements, don’t necessarily have the same effect that they used to.

“I would place an ad on Marketplace on Facebook, and I would have 20 people by that evening — that was last year,” Schurgin said.

He said now ad responses are “minimal and subpar.”

Schurgin said that Better Life averages 50 employees per year, with 90% being “long-term, full-time.”

Despite the recent challenges, thus far, Better Life has been able to stay the course.

“We’re keeping everything going, but if we lose an account or we lose two accounts, with a small company, it affects us hugely,” Schurgin said. “We can’t afford to lose accounts, and we can’t afford to not be able to continue to get employees. Missing opportunities doesn’t lead to long-term success.”

Corbin is not expecting the labor shortage problem in Michigan to be solved overnight.

“Demand for workers is extremely high,” she said. “I think in April of ’21, we had 84,000 new job ads, and that was 74% higher than what we saw in April of 2019,” she said. “So, it is going to take some time to get people back to work.”

Despite neither likely to be quick fixes to the labor shortage problem in Michigan, Corbin shared details of “two important programs” that have been launched during the pandemic.

“One is Futures for Frontliners, and that’s a program that provides free community college tuition for frontliners,” she said. “And then in February, we kicked off the Michigan Reconnect program, and that’s a bipartisan program supported by our Legislature and the governor that provides free community college tuition for anybody in Michigan over 25 who does not yet have their degree.”

As for where the money is coming from for those programs, Corbin said the state “used some of the education dollars that came to Michigan through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and then the Legislature earmarked $30 million for Michigan Reconnect.”

Corbin also expects federal stimulus dollars to come to Michigan to help with child care relief, which could help clear the way for some people to return to work.

Another potential path to returning people to work was Michigan’s decision to reinstate work search requirements as of May 30.

The work search requirement was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

To remain eligible for benefits, claimants must actively seek work and report at least one work search activity for each week they claim benefits.

Work search is required for those receiving benefits under the state’s regular unemployment insurance program, as well as for federal benefits programs.

Corbin said the additional $300 in federal dollars collected during unemployment expires in September.

According to michigan.gov, the maximum length of time that someone can collect unemployment is 20 weeks.

Corbin said, “On average, a person collecting state benefits only collects for 14 weeks.”

At press time, the most recent unemployment rankings listed for Michigan was from April, with the state at 4.9% unemployment.

Oakland County was at 2.7%, which ranked second only to Livingston County, which was at 2.4%.

Macomb County was third at 3.4%, and Wayne County 21st at 4.8%.

Cassar said that, in over a year, only four people came to look at his day care, as opposed to that number previously being “like a normal month of people coming by to enroll their children in day care.”

However, things have recently improved.

“The numbers have gone up,” Cassar said. “I’m having a lot more interest again. I don’t know if it’s because the unemployment’s ending, so people are going back to work, but nonetheless, those numbers seem to be on the rise again.”

The state has launched a “Back to Work” effort to help Michigan businesses fill job openings. Employers can visit michigan.gov/backtowork for more information.

Job seekers can visit michiganworks.org and/or mitalent.org.

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