Friday, August 12, 2022

Editorial: Here's why labor shortage is pucker material

| July 13, 2022 1:00 AM

Algeria is a North African nation of 44 million, with coastline on the Mediterranean Sea and a desert interior.

Its population is 99% Sunni Islam, and its primary crops are dates, figs and citrus, including lemons.

So what’s this got to do with the American economy or, for that matter, the price of spuds?

As an example, maybe plenty.

Our nation is struggling to fill millions of jobs. Regional economist Sam Wolkenhauer likes to use Algeria to connect some dots with the plight of not only employers, but local consumers.

The big picture shows that America is far from alone in economic challenges stemming from falling birth rates and too few qualified people for many jobs. Wolkenhauer will note that the question of affordability — for most of us, the driving force determining which products and services we can buy and which we can only admire from a distance — is changing. We’re moving into a time when availability is becoming increasingly important.

Back to Algeria. When times get bad — when nations go to war, pandemics rage, inflation rules and economic balance sheets go berserk — Algerians face potential starvation because they can’t survive on dates, figs and lemons alone. They need grain, and if supplies of grain aren’t available to them, they’re going to have to replace those lemon crops with corn and wheat.

The U.S. is blessed with abundant grains, so starvation is highly unlikely here. However, all you lemon suckers might pucker up unpleasantly when your favorite fruit is no longer available because a country like Algeria has to stop growing them.

That’s just one of Wolkenhauer’s small examples of a looming problem: Shortages we’re encountering now are almost certain to get worse before they get better. And few shortages affect us more than the availability of qualified, energized health care workers.

Pay attention to how Kootenai Health is attacking that problem, as creatively and constructively as possible. But also understand that some of the subtle changes you’ve seen recently might become less subtle going forward.

Realize that serious job shortages inflict pain well beyond employers and employees.

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