Signing bonuses, housing allowances still insufficient
“The huge influx of people who moved here during Covid has created business, but they’re not doing anything to add to the workforce,” said Amity Lucas, the Amity agency name, a recruiter for East End employers.
There is a jobs crisis in the East End.
“All the industries here are booming,” said Amity Lucas, the name of the Amity agency, a recruiter for East End employers. “The huge influx of people who moved here during Covid has created business, but they’re not doing anything to add to the workforce,” she said.
Many new residents are working from home and not looking for work locally. She said another whole faction of new residents are retirees. A Covid-era problem for employers, Ms Lucas said, was that ‘people were learning to use the system’ and receiving unemployment from the government even though they might have a little side job to earn some money. . This little hack of the system meant that many full-time jobs went unfilled.
In 2021, according to the United States Department of Labor, a record 47.4 million people voluntarily left their jobs. Nationally, the unemployment rate is 3.6%. In New York State, it is slightly higher, at 4.6%, but still well below historical levels.
It’s not always easy to put numbers like these into local perspective, but what they now mean in the East End is that the cost of hiring employees is rising.
In addition to an already tight labor market, three major structural problems plague the East End. The lack of affordable housing, lack of public transportation and inadequate roads to handle the growing traffic, as well as the lack of day care centers add to the already difficult task of hiring and retaining employees.
“There is literally nowhere for people to live,” Ms Lucas said. While everyone is talking about affordable housing, builders are “still focusing only on large mansions.” Nobody wants density around them, she said.
“The traffic is so horrible” that people who used to commute from west of the Shinnecock Canal no longer think it’s worth it. The East End is more dependent than ever on imported workers, just as many are choosing to work elsewhere.
This has led to a very strong market for workers. She said tight labor markets have “certainly driven up the money people can ask for”. Landscapers, for example, “it’s a bit like a little mafia,” she says, who often earn $30 an hour. “Last summer, everyone had overgrown hedges because they couldn’t find landscapers,” she said. Childcare is the same. “A lot of mums would go to work, but childcare costs more than they would earn.”
She said more affordable child care would help tremendously.
Drive west anytime from 5 a.m. and it’s clear that the “commercial parade” or “entrepreneur exploration” has recently increased. Ms Lucas says South Fork is ‘desperate for tradespeople’. For example, heating and air conditioning contractors offer signing bonuses and housing assistance for workers. “They’re really trying to woo people,” she said.
Ted Schiavoni is a plumber in Sag Harbor. His company, GF Schiavoni, was started by his grandfather Gabriel in 1948. His father ran it until 1994, when he and his brother Fran took it over. So he went through employment cycles. “It’s virtually impossible to hire people right now,” he said. “I overpay people to come on board.” Last year, he hired and trained an employee for $24 an hour. “He just left because someone else hired him for $34 plus benefits after not even a year of experience,” he said.
People who have been in the community for years take advantage of high real estate prices and leave. Mr. Schiavoni says that in the past, he had three or four local high school students come to him for summer jobs. “I haven’t seen them for years,” he said.
But that’s not just a problem for those who hire landscapers and craftsmen. Maureen McDermott, owner of Winter McDermott Design, an interior design firm in Sag Harbor, said pools of cheap skilled labor simply don’t exist here. “In Manhattan, there are five design schools from which you can choose employees. They are eager to start a career and progress. Here she is often confronted with people trying a second career. Employees are older, more independent and already socially connected. Retaining those employees you have trained can be difficult. “You work for someone for a short time and then you go out on your own because that opportunity is there,” she said.
Ms Lucas said her dream was for a posh hostel or dorm to open and offer monthly leases. She said laws created years ago to deal with shared homes should be reformed so that seasonal employees have accommodation. In this case, she could recruit college students from all over the country. “These kids could come here and make $20 an hour,” more than they would in other parts of the country, she says. “We could keep it local and keep it American instead of having people working here illegally. College kids would love to live in a fun beach town in the summer,” she said.
But even if the labor shortage persists, the crowds are clearly there. There’s no parking, East Hampton Village sold out 3,000 beach permits in a matter of hours, and there are waiting lists for summer camps.
“What happened to the people?” asked M. Schiavoni. “They are there but no one wants to work.”