In 2021, talk continued incessantly about Covid, particularly the latest Omicron variant, the political dysfunction in Washington and a return to normal (briefly). Tornadoes tore through the south. Mass shootings remained a deadly force. Space flights resumed, thanks to billionaire explorers.
Another phenomenon enveloped everyday lives: shortages of skilled workers in nearly every economic sector in our unsettled country. Americans were resigning their jobs in droves. They wanted more pay, benefits and respect.
They were unwilling to work in stressful situations without better compensation—and recognition that they mattered, whether they were flipping burgers at McDonald’s, or serving food in a restaurant populated by demanding customers.
Our America is hurting for lack of workers. Shortages have serious consequences. Business owners and managers are straining to fill empty job slots.
The Cheese Shop, an iconic sandwich shop in Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchant Square. stopped serving sandwiches two weeks ago due to a shortage of workers willing to prepare 1,500 sandwiches daily. According to an article in the Washington Post, this bustling small business, which also includes the Wine Cellar and the Fat Canary restaurant, normally employs 80 workers during the holiday season; it has 49.
This story struck a nerve. The Cheese Shop has been a welcome respite from the Colonial Williamsburg historical immersion, including the vintage taverns long on heritage and short of quality food. Its clientele has included not only tourists, but also local business folks and College of William and Mary professors.
The Cheese Shop’s inability to offer its vibrant sandwich service, an obvious profit center, epitomizes for me the country’s current shortage of workers. It illustrated an employment trough bedeviling small businesses dependent on loyal employees and grateful consumers.
The Cheese Shop owners, two sisters and a brother, said they pay their employees from $12 to $35 an hour. That sounds generous, though a minimum of $15 per hour would be preferable. What I always observed was caring management.
One of the causes of the stress on Cheese Shop is, of course, Covid-related. Long confined to their homes, people are flocking to eateries to return to the old normal. The demand for sandwiches outweighs the ability of the owners and staff to fulfill consumers’ hungry requests.
The result would have seemed unlikely: close down the crux of the business through inability to serve it efficiently. Customers are angry either way.
At BayWoods of Annapolis, a continuing care retirement community, the health center, which offers assisted living and skilled nursing, cannot accept patients due to an alarming lack of health care workers. The result is awful; prospective patients are turned away. Families must scour the medical landscape.
If that’s happening at hospitals because of scarcity of nurses, medical care is suffering. I am concerned.
Access to scrumptious sandwiches pales in comparison to impaired medical care affected by a nursing deficit. Nurses provide the glue that offer a lifeline to patients treated, but not coddled by preoccupied doctors. They fill in the medical voids.
They are invaluable, as they have been for years. Yet, they cannot provided capable attention when understaffed.
As I end my last column of 2021, I must cite another grave shortage in our fragile union. That is the dearth of compromise. It is crippling our body politic, especially so the governing process in Washington.
It has nothing to do with our supply chain. It has everything to do with our diminished supply of understanding of, and empathy for our fellow citizens and their political viewpoints. We all are suspect of close-mindedness.
As I write my final Spy words of 2021, I thank Dave Wheelan, editor-publisher, for the weekly platform and the Out and About (Sort of) readers for your attention and comments. You have no shortage of savvy insight, perspective and patience.
Happy and Hopeful New Year to Spy aficionados and all those who support this community asset through partnerships and donations. A shortage of journalistic outlets diminishes our democracy.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.