Staff Short? Give ‘Em More Work

Covid Kim has had some really strange responses to what is being described as a workforce shortage. The responses have ranged from cutting unemployment insurance early to attempt to force people in desperation to take any job, offering a whopping $1,000 to $2,000 bonus to teachers and now raising the number of children an individual child care professional can watch at a time.

One of the often cited reasons that women of child bearing age have been slow to return to the work force during the pandemic is because affordable, reliable child care is a commodity that is hard to come by in Iowa. 

Child care is a notoriously low wage industry. In such a situation working on legislation to raise wages at least to a livable wage would be one of the first places to start. Workers in this field should also have benefits like workers in other industries. The first four years of a child’s life are when they learn most of what they need to succeed in life. Those who work with them should be paid accordingly.

Not in Republican dominated Iowa. Raising wages or benefits in this state seems to be like condoning theft. The Iowa legislature’s response is to increase the workload. Whether the pay is increased will most likely be up to the individual workplace. Child to provider ratios will increase from 6 to 1 at age two to 7 to 1 at age two. For age three the ratio will go from 8 to 1 to 10 to 1.

If that wasn’t enough to make mothers quiver at turning their toddlers over to care providers, add in allowing 16 year olds to be care providers without supervision. Handling children is not a simple task. Handling more than a couple of two year olds at a time often takes physical and mental agility. 

Remember, these are children, our most precious product . The current ratio of 6 to 1 for two year olds for an 8+ hour day sounds greatly demanding. Add in another one and it feels like a deal breaker. Add in 16 year olds unsupervised and most mothers would say “NO.”

I think we could take an educated guess that those proposing this increase are most likely well removed from the child care arena. They may have children, but don’t have to deal with their care for long stretches with multiple children at a time.

Back last summer in another backward attempt to force Iowans into the workforce Gov. Corporate Kim Reynolds cut off the extra help that the unemployed were getting from the federal government. The concept here would be if people are starving they will take any job. Gettin an extra $300 per week allowed the unemployed to live like kings I guess. 

Based on that logic, workers should have come flooding back. But they didn’t. People were not returning because of fear of being infected with covid, lack of child care or dislike of certain types of jobs. Nothing was done about those problems. Starve ‘em out was the strategy.

Most recently Iowa like many other states has been hit with a mass exodus of teachers. The major reasons again are fear of Covid as masking is relaxed – pretty much done away with actually – lack of access to child care and overwork as planning periods are now being consumed as subs when other teachers call in sick or quit.

Corporate Kim’s answer? A paltry $1000 or $2000 bonus. The legislature joined in by raising school appropriations a measly 2.5% which may well be consumed by gas for the school busses next year. There will be little to no money for teacher raises or for that matter supplies. Add in the insane battles around books and curriculum (CRT) and it is no wonder college educated young teachers are looking to get out of teaching and often out of Iowa.

Feels like Reynolds and the Republicans approach to solving problems is the old cartoon line of the announcement that “The beatings will continue until attitudes improve.” 

Colin Gordon of Common Good Iowa had a great editorial discussing the state’s cutting of unemployment insurance last summer in the Des Moines Register. I recommend reading the full editorial. Among other things Gordon said:    

“In late 2020, the agency began clawing back benefits already paid to thousands of workers. In July 2021, it abruptly cut short Iowa’s participation in the extended federal unemployment benefit programs. In late October, it dramatically tightened the work-search requirements imposed on out-of-work Iowans. Pare back unemployment benefits and make them harder to get, by this logic, and those living large on $400.00/week (the average weekly unemployment benefit in Iowa) will flock back into the labor force.

There are fundamental flaws with this reasoning. First, Iowa Workforce Development cannot seem to comprehend (or at least accept) the reality of “frictional” unemployment — that an economy can have both job openings and job seekers at the same time. Instead, it assumes that working Iowans are completely fungible; that an unemployed carpenter in Cedar Rapids can (and should) take a night shift at a gas station in Council Bluffs.

Second, it continues to traffic in false Dickensian assumptions that state assistance discourages work. The decision to cut off the extended federal benefits in July did not galvanize the state economy — indeed, states that joined Iowa in that strategy have experienced slower economic growth than the rest of the country.

The reason for this is not hard to discern: The vast majority of the Iowa’s “missing workers” have dropped out of the labor market entirely. They (many of them women) are not drawing unemployment benefits. Their “disincentive” to work is not generous public benefits. It is a wage structure resting on a minimum wage that has not budged in 13 years. It is a regulatory regime of occupational health and safety that puts workers at risk and immunizes their employers. It is uneven access to paid leave that, for many working Iowans, makes “work-life balance” impossible to achieve.

Iowa Workforce Development seems bent on administering our unemployment benefit system not for the benefit of unemployed Iowans, but for the benefit of employers bemoaning a “shortage” of workers willing to fill lousy jobs at lousy wages. This tilt is evident in the rollout, alongside the late October changes to unemployment insurance, of two new business incentive programs. Aimed at “advanced manufacturing,” these programs open yet another trough of public money to well-heeled business interests and offer little to working Iowans. The grants have no discernible targets for wages or job creation. They prohibit the use of grant money to train workers. And they encourage expenditure on “specialized equipment for automation.”

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
This entry was posted in Children, Covid-19, Kim Reynolds, Labor, unemployment insurance and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Staff Short? Give ‘Em More Work

  1. says:

    It’s hard to miss Gov Reynolds’s naked ambition to leave Iowa for the national stage.

    Clearly, she wants to get OUT of this place.

    And who can blame her? The state is a wreck:

    * Once we had clean water. Now we have sick waterways that contribute mightily to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. * Once we had Iowa nice. Now we treat Medicaid users, the unemployed, and transgender kids as pariahs, passing discriminatory laws and regulations to make their lives miserable. * Once we boasted a best-in-the-nation public-school system. Now our legislature works overtime to micromanage everything public-school teachers do, hamstring school boards, and steal public-school funds to prop up private schools. * Once we valued property rights and local control. Now the governor’s cronies plot with legislators to use ‘eminent domain’ to grab land for their carbon pipeline. Landowners will lose bigly, but the Gov’s big donors will make megabucks.

    If Gov Reynolds invokes all the right buzzwords when she responds to President Biden’s State of the Union address, maybe she will someday achieve her dream, move to D.C., and shake the dust of Iowa from her feet.

    Ah well, we will always have that dust to remember her by.

    Not much else will be left.

    Lauren E Tiffany

    Iowa City, IA


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