MOUNT VERNON — While having a low unemployment rate is a positive thing at first glance, it can cause issues for employers. Knox County currently has a 3.9 percent unemployment rate, which is .3 percent lower than Ohio’s average of 4.2 percent.
The rate has staggered around 4 or 5 percent for the past five years, which is the lowest it has been since the Great Recession from 2008 to 2009 caused it to skyrocket to double digits. It has been on the decline for the past decade, and is finally at a comfortable place.
Such a low number means the majority of Knox County citizens have some form of employment, but it also leaves employers, especially ones that are new to town, searching for workers. According to Diana Williams, project coordinator at Opportunity Knox, Knox County businesses are being affected.
“There is not a business without a help wanted or a hiring sign outside in town,” Williams said.
Williams also mentioned that the majority of citizens without employment have certain barriers that keep them from getting a job, such as lack of transportation or child care.
While the main problem affecting employers is a lack of people who are currently looking for a job, there is also the fact that prospective applicants are becoming more selective.
Williams said that in today’s society, people are starting to look at the whole package of the job, rather than just the salary. Factors such as whether or not health care is provided, length of commute time, number of hours per week and overall benefits are all things that are being considered now when applying for a job.
In order to find some sort of resolution, employers should look at what they are offering employees. Williams said that solving some of the barriers the unemployed face, such as lack of child care, could make it possible for a single parent to work. This could come in the form of Dependent Care Assistance Programs, child care subsidies or back-up child care assistance for when school is closed or out of session.
While wage is not the main focus anymore, it still is a factor. ContactUS, a call center focusing on sales, customer service and consumer relations is one of the newest companies in Mount Vernon and experienced the affects of a low unemployment rate firsthand. Trevor Friesen, CEO and president of ContactUS, said the company struggled to hire at their Mount Vernon location, their fourth and the most recent campus in the U.S.
“It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to hire,” Friesen said in regards to the dropping unemployment rate.
Friesen said the company had to increase what was originally thought to be a competitive wage in the first three months of operation to get applicants. ContactUS is a seasonal company, and Friesen said they were able to hire enough employees to ensure the functionality of the company for the season, approximately 120 employees, but they plan on another wave of hiring this spring, and expects to double the number of employees.
Despite being the largest city in the area, Mount Vernon has the lowest per capita median wage of $36,335, according to Williams. The current national median earnings per worker in the U.S. is $44,910, and in Ohio, it is slightly less at $43,471. Mount Vernon falls significantly below both averages, but surrounding villages such as Gambier and Fredericktown are either just about on par or even above average. Gambier’s median income per capita is $51,765, and Fredericktown is $41,063. Differing industries and therefore differing wages across the county is most likely the cause of the variance in wages.
Williams does not believe that people in the county are seeking employment opportunities elsewhere. Higher wages, better benefits and overall packages might be the key to getting workers through the door.
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