This ‘impending’ crisis is here, it’s real … and it’s going to get worse

We knew it was going to happen. We knew the reasons why it was going to happen. But we had no idea it was going to happen now.

What in the world am I talking about? I’m talking about a labor crisis of unprecedented proportion. The Western world is caught in a perfect storm in which an aging populace, lower overall birth rates, shifts in work/life patterns and immigration policies have collided to create labor shortages and service disruptions.  

It’s here, it’s real and it’s going to get worse.

Take, for example, the world of aging services, where recent surveys by both LeadingAge and the investment banking firm Ziegler and Company revealed over half of the responding providers reported having to either deny services, defer services or shut down portions of their operations due to labor shortages. In many other cases, providers have had to turn to temporary “agency” staffing to meet their clients’ needs. While these agency personnel fill a vital role, there is little doubt that continuity of care, familiarity of clients and provider-based training are all at risk when providers find it necessary to turn to agency staffing. Today, in many markets, this is the norm rather than the exception. But, hey – we’ve been down this road before, right? During past times of economic prosperity and low unemployment, we’ve seen labor shortages, right?  Yes, but not to the extent of what we are witnessing today – actual service disruption.

Last weekend my wife and I were at popular destination in the North Carolina mountains, we stayed overnight at a well-known, respected brand hotel. Checking in that afternoon, we were given the option of taking a handicap-accessible room or waiting for another one to be cleaned.  Later that night after returning from dinner, I noticed a housekeeping cart in the hallway – cleaning rooms at 9 p.m.!  They simply didn’t have enough staff. Then on Saturday morning, we went to a local breakfast spot at 9:15 a.m. only to be greeted by a nice young lady at the door who offered her apologies, but stated the restaurant is “closing early” due to some “problems in the kitchen” (translation: not enough production staff). After relating this experience to a local resident, they informed me about another restaurant in town that had to limit the days they operated due to an ongoing staff shortage. This is prime tourist season for these establishments! Days of lost revenue at this time of year can – and, unfortunately, most likely will – break them.

Service disruption is here, and we’ll only see it increase in the days, months and years to come.

What does all this mean for the person on the street? The basic economic law of supply and demand dictates that as the demand increases for the limited supply of labor, wages are sure to rise. As wages increase, so does pricing for the consumer And as services become scare because of the limited input of labor needed to deliver the service – well, you get the picture. Bottom line: Getting care as you grow older will cost you more. Lots more.

If you can find it.

This unprecedented time of concurrent rising costs and numbers of older adults, coupled with limited availability and all but the slightest hope of a federal policy to pay for long-term services and supports, is exacerbated by stalled efforts to reform immigration. Speaking solely as an aging services professional, immigration – while not the holy grail to our labor problems – is an essential part of the equation in solving our current labor shortages. We must work to find bi-partisan solutions that allow immigrants into our nation to help care for our older citizens.

The time to act is beyond now. The labor crisis is here. And it’s only getting started.

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