As the coronavirus pandemic winds down and some businesses struggle to find workers, the majority of Palm Beach County politicos and community influencers who responded to a Palm Beach Post poll said firms should offer higher wages to attract applicants. The majority of respondents also said they still wear masks when out in public and that they plan to travel this summer.
About 54% of respondents — 43 of 79 — in The Post’s monthly Power Poll, conducted in May, agreed that employers should raise pay to entice workers to come back. Some employers complain that idle people prefer collecting the extra $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits rather than pursuing a job. But workers and labor researchers have said that’s not the case.
“I believe we should stop the overpayment of unemployment with no follow-up to ensure actual interviews to qualify,” said Nancy Proffitt, who runs a West Palm Beach-based business coaching firm. “However, wages have been far too low prior to COVID and the unemployment debacle. People can not afford to live on $10 and $12 per hour, especially as a single wage earner.”
Workers in some of the hardest hit industries — including hotels, restaurants, fast food, hospitality, tourism and leisure — told The Post in May that low pay helped drive them away from those lines of work or search for higher-wage jobs.
“These companies have to pay more,” Evans Philias, a former Starbucks worker said. “That’s what it’s about. In Florida, it's hard. We don’t make enough money.”
Philias' wage was $15.50 an hour before he was laid off last year.
Many women also have had to stay home to care for their families, the Associated Press wrote last month, especially because most of those who have found work since the pandemic-induced recession have been men.
The federal government added $300 a week extra in unemployment benefits to what states already offer to those out-of-work as part of the pandemic relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March. No strong evidence, such as multiple academic studies or analyses, shows a connection between the extra weekly payments and higher unemployment rates.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat representing much of Palm Beach County, said “The market should drive these decisions,” when it comes to the question of whether or not businesses should offer more money to potential employees.
Poll: Masks in public are still important
About 63% of respondents, 50 people, said they still wear masks when they leave their homes.
“I still choose to wear masks in doctor's offices (my office), and in areas of large gatherings because I know that I could still contract the virus,” said Palm Beach Gardens City Councilman Mark Marciano, who is fully vaccinated.
The chance of becoming infected after getting fully vaccinated is very low. Florida does not provide such statistics but the Palm Beach County office of the state health department reported in April that 136 out of 279,677 fully vaccinated residents, or 0.049%, caught the airborne virus.
“Our elections office will allow vaccinated staff members to go without masks once the county allows it,” Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link said. “But staff members who choose not to get vaccinated will be required to wear a mask in the office for the time being.”
“I have been vaccinated,” said Jorge Pesquera, executive director of Discover the Palm Beaches, the county’s tax-funded tourism promotion agency. He said he has “significantly relaxed mask-wearing unless I am with other people who are not vaccinated and still feel a need to protect themselves from the virus.”
About 87% of survey respondents, or 69 people, said they plan to travel this summer.
“We are looking forward to driving to North Carolina with our college-age sons for a family vacation,” Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman Chelsea Reed said. “We are all vaccinated.“
The Post’s Power Poll asked 258 people between May 24 and 27 to respond to these questions and received answers from 79 of them, or about 31%.