Border businesses deal with worker shortage, new COVID-19 concerns

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Some laid off during COVID-19 pandemic opt to return as part-time workers or stay home with enhanced unemployment checks, report says

FILE – In this Sept. 2, 2020 file photo, a customer wears a face mask as they carry their order past a now hiring sign at an eatery in Richardson, Texas. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 751,000, the lowest since March, but it’s still historically high and indicates the viral pandemic is still forcing many employers to cut jobs. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Major business benchmarks were up for a seventh consecutive month in El Paso in June, but employers are still having a hard time finding workers and COVID-19 concerns remain.

Those are the highlights from the Borderplex Business Barometer report released this week by the University of Texas at El Paso.

The research by UTEP’s Border Region Modeling Project shows June unemployment in El Paso and nearby Las Cruces, New Mexico, was substantially lower than during the COVID-19 lockdowns a year ago. But even as the two cities lifted restrictions and allowed restaurants and other establishments to fully reopen, merchants have found it difficult to recruit employees.

“Suspicions linger that labor force participation has declined as a consequence of the $300 per week federal supplemental unemployment insurance payments,” a summary of the report says. “Other factors are also influencing the region.”

That includes health concerns about the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, and closures or personnel shortcomings at daycare centers, which hinders the ability of parents with young children at home to look for work.

Other “structural” changes in the labor force are also affecting the region’s labor market. That includes a large number of baby boomers retiring every year and younger workers opting to work only part-time after being laid off during the pandemic, the report says.

Another factor that may be hard to comprehend with constant headlines about the 2019 and 2021 immigration surges is that places like El Paso and Las Cruces – which unlike Dallas, Miami or New York, are not destination cities for migrants – have seen a decline in net international migration since 1998, according to the report.

“As business leaders will affirm, regional labor markets have been affected by all these developments,” the report states.

Across the border in Juarez, the labor market has also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuation of non-essential land border travel restrictions.

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