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Oct. 20, 2021, 4:19 p.m. EDT

‘My business faces a dire shortage of workers’

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Jeffry Bartash

Small-business owner Christine Lantinen says she has 200 employees and needs 100 more — but she can’t find them.

“My business faces a dire shortage of workers,” she said on Wednesday at a U.S. House hearing on labor and supply-chain bottlenecks in the economy.

As a result, Lantinen has had to postpone expansion plans for her rapidly growing sweets-and snacks business.

Read: ‘I quit,’ a record number of U.S. workers are telling their bosses

Lantinen’s lament was echoed by other business owners who testified.

“Everybody and anybody who works in this industry is in dire need of added labor,” said John Fowke, president of the home-building company Homes by John C. Fowke Inc. in Valrico, Fla.

Read: Construction on new homes slows as supply-chain woes bite

The U.S. is experiencing one of the worst labor shortages in decades, a surprising offshoot of a pandemic that had thrown millions of people out of work.

Some 5 million people who were employed before the viral outbreak haven’t gone back work and it’s unclear if, or when, they will do so. Another 3 million people or so likely would have joined the workforce in the past few years had there been no pandemic at all.

Read: Americans say they’ve lost confidence in the economy, but they’re spending like they won the lottery

The lack of labor has become a huge problem for businesses big and small and even efforts by companies to sharply increase wages hasn’t done the trick.

Lantinen said she has raised hourly wages by 36% since the end of 2020, “but we still have trouble finding workers.” She runs a small sweets- and snack-producing company called Maud Borup Inc. in Plymouth, Minn.

Read: Small businesses frustrated by labor shortages afflicting the economy

Lantinen wasn’t sure why it was so hard to hire, but she urged Congress to give retired workers more tax incentives to return to the labor force. She pointed out that there were more than 40 million retirees in the U.S.

She was also receptive to Congress making it easier for migrants in the country illegally to be allowed to work. Lantinen said she turned away enough qualified applicants to meet all her hiring needs because they had fake IDs.

For now she’s rushing to add automation to her business to speed up production, but she still needs a lot more workers.

Fowke, for his part, suggested that Washington needs to stop giving people an incentive to remain out of work.

“If you pay a man not to work, why would he work?” said Fowke, alluding to a federal program that paid generous extra benefits to the unemployed.

The program ended in September, but so far there’s little evidence that many people whose benefits were cut off have returned to the work force.

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