Dozens of "help wanted" signs in the windows of Fairfax and Burke-area businesses are proof that a low unemployment rate isn't always good for business.
Staffing problems are causing many local workers to work overtime, which costs the businesses more and also hurts employee morale, said Dr. Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis in George Mason University's School of Public Policy.
"It means higher wages for employers," said Fuller. "It raises costs for employers and because it's difficult to fill jobs, the work isn't getting done."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported Virginia as having the fourth lowest unemployment rate average in the nation in 2005. In May of this year, they reported the national unemployment rate as 4.6 percent, while Virginia's unemployment rate was right around 3 percent. Nelson Asare, the assistant manager of Party Land, a party supply store on Fairfax Boulevard, said the store put its "We're Hiring" sign in the window around the end of May. He said the response has been good, but none of the applications the store has received are qualified for the sales positions available. According to Fuller, "We're Hiring" signs can be seen in all types of businesses throughout the county, since unemployment rates are down for both low and high-skilled workers.
"It shows up pretty much everywhere," said Fuller. "There are more jobs than people."
In the meantime, Party Land has been operating with less staff. They've also been putting employees on-call, so when business picks up they can come in on short notice.
"People are working extra hours," said Asare. "We're short staffed."
UP THE STREET from Party Land, the Kitchen and Bath Gallery, 10937-B Fairfax Blvd., is also looking for help. The store created a Web site that it hopes will draw in some potential employees, according to Herb James, a manager and bookkeeper at the gallery. The store has been looking for sales people for a few months, after they had an employee who didn't work out, said James. Until they find more staff, they will have to make do with what they've got.
"Sometime you have to do what you can," said James.
Fuller said this trend will continue, since affordable housing in Fairfax County is hard to find, giving the county a "competitive disadvantage." Employers will have to pay higher wages and offer more benefits to attract employees if they want to compete with less expensive housing markets, said Fuller. People tend not to move for lower paying jobs, he said, and they won't move if they can't afford the housing.
"People looking for jobs can find them in other places," said Fuller. "They [businesses] just have to be more strategic all the time with recruiting."
A Kohl's Department store, 5793 Burke Centre Parkway, posted its "We're Hiring" sign on a huge banner at the entrance to the store. A store manager there said they are looking for help in all departments, and have not had much luck finding workers. At a Safeway grocery store near the intersection of Old Lee Highway and North Street, a computer kiosk sits at the entrance to attract job applicants. Sheri Styles, store manager, said they are never fully staffed. She said the store makes it work, but applicants are always welcome.
"As business grows, we're always looking for new people," said Styles.