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Unemployment benefits aren’t the only thing keeping workers at home

Business owners, chambers of commerce types and some local officials around Virginia swore that ending enhanced unemployment benefits – of $300 a week from the federal government – would propel folks back into the workforce who’d been home during the pandemic. That may not be the case.

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Business owners, chambers of commerce types and some local officials around Virginia swore that ending enhanced unemployment benefits – of $300 a week from the federal government – would propel folks back into the workforce who’d been home during the pandemic. 

The commonwealth should play a figurative Scrooge, these folks said, because places including restaurants, hotels and small businesses needed these employees. “Turbocharge the cash registers!” they cried.

This line of thinking was a gross oversimplification of the (so-called) post-pandemic economy. Nor do I think it was by accident. Demonizing low-wage workers has been a sport in this country for ages.

Several factors have kept people on the sidelines, not just the government largesse. The recent uptick in COVID-19 infections and persistent vaccine resistance, for example, would make anybody leery of working outside the home.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has repeatedly said the commonwealth will keep doling out the checks until the Sept. 6 deadline, and a spokeswoman confirmed that to me again on Monday. It’s a wise, compassionate decision. 

About half of the states, mostly led by Republican governors, ended their programs early, however. 

Now a study by a university professor of the early impacts of canceling the benefits suggests there’s been no rush to return to the workforce – even after states declined the money. 

“This doesn’t seem to have translated into most of these individuals having jobs in the first 2-3 weeks following expiration,” said Arindrajit Dube, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “However, there is evidence that the reduced (unemployment insurance) benefits increased self-reported hardship in paying for regular expenses.”  

Those checks have been deemed wasteful recently by critics, but several factors are keeping people at home. Shame on those who said otherwise – and depicted many Americans as freeloaders for not waiting on tables, changing sheets, or ringing up customers.

Caveats abound to Dube’s study, as CNBC reported. Some states hadn’t reverted to a lack of federal benefits very long. Dube noted more time and information are needed.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer was among those who urged Northam to cut off benefits sooner. His tourist-heavy locality can use workers, especially during the summer. Many of those jobs, though, didn’t pay well and can be physically demanding. Many employers are now dangling fatter paychecks, but finding workers is still a hurdle.

Dyer told me Monday the issue is moot now, since September is around the corner and with it, the end of the peak tourist season. He’d talked to many business owners who were desperate for workers, and Dyer was voicing their concerns to the guv, he told me. 

Dyer also said employers at places like Stihl Inc., which have higher-paying and higher-skilled jobs, have told him they can’t fill vacancies. “Workforce is the biggest challenge we’ve got,” Dyer said. “If we’re going to have businesses, we have to supply the bodies.” 

That’s true. 

Since the pandemic, however, many adults and families are reassessing the necessity of working outside the home. They value spending more time with their children, while giving up lengthy commutes. 

And given our notorious reputation for being overworked compared to the rest of developed nations, many Americans wonder if our former job habits still make sense. Everyone is re-evaluating the trade-offs. 

Vinod Agarwal is an economics professor at Old Dominion University and deputy director of its Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. I knew he’d give me a balanced assessment of the unemployment insurance controversy.

Business owners who say the enhanced benefits are the sole cause of the labor shortage are just wrong, he said. Since the pandemic started, some workers left the labor force entirely. Many women, Agarwal noted, made less than their male partners, and they often assumed the primary task of helping children who could not go to in-person school. 

Minority women often had the task of taking care of elderly relatives, too. A Trump administration crackdown on J-1 visas for overseas workers also played a role, Agarwal noted, particularly in tourist-heavy areas like Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

Among formerly low-income workers, some now have greater flexibility and choices. “Unless the wages go up, a lot of these workers won’t return to the marketplace,” the professor said.

From daycare concerns and costs, to the aggravation of low-paying jobs, many families – especially those with two adults – are reassessing what’s important. Should they return to the market, when employers aren’t meeting their goals and conditions are less than desirable?

Enhanced unemployment benefits are going to end. Our place in the revamped economy is just beginning.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Richmond Region Tourism partners with VisitAble to offer disability awareness education to local hospitality community

A new partnership between Richmond Region Tourism and VisitAble is working to make the region more inclusive for visitors of all abilities.

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A new partnership between Richmond Region Tourism and VisitAble is working to make the region more inclusive for visitors of all abilities.

The region’s tourism marketer recently engaged VisitAble to provide free disability inclusion and awareness education programs to local businesses and organizations.

A startup based in Central Virginia, VisitAble works to improve accessibility and disability inclusion by engaging businesses, governments, and educational institutions in its Advocate+ Certification program. The process includes training 80% of staff on disability etiquette and inclusion, an accessibility test for public-facing locations, a mystery guest experience from an individual with a disability for staff to put their training intro practice, a report with feedback and advice from VisitAble and the mystery guest(s), and a website listing on VisitAble’s database of accessibility information to alleviate the uncertainty that may prevent customers and visitors from visiting.

After completing the certification process, hospitality partners will receive an Advocate+ Certification sticker for their door or window, a digital badge for use on their website, and recognition on Richmond Region Tourism’s website to broadcast the partner’s efforts and to further alleviate any uncertainty that potential tourists with disabilities may have.

“Our Advocate+ certification indicates an organization is actively working towards disability inclusion,” said VisitAble founder Joe Jamison. “Increased training, awareness, and transparency from the certification process helps organizations create a better experience for everyone. We’re thrilled to partner with the Richmond Region Tourism team to make a great impact on disability inclusion not only for tourists of the greater Richmond area, but also the greater Richmond community.”

“As we welcome new and returning travelers to the region every day, we’re constantly thinking about ways to improve the visitor experience while enhancing the quality of life for residents,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “We’re proud to offer these free education programs with VisitAble to hospitality partners to help improve accessibility and inclusion for everyone in the region.”

There are limited slots available for the initiative. Local hospitality-focused businesses and organizations interested in a free Advocate+ Certification from VisitAble can submit an application here.

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Blue Bee Cider lists Scott’s Addition home for $3 million; future of business unclear

“I’m hoping to find a buyer who’ll love and appreciate it as much as I do,” owner Courtney Mailey said.

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From Richmond BizSense:

The future of a Scott’s Addition cidery is up in the air as it lists its prime real estate for sale.

Blue Bee Cider’s compound at 1320 Summit Ave. hit the market this week with an asking price of $3.2 million.

Owner Courtney Mailey said whether the cidery will continue operating there will depend on a buyer’s plans.

“I’m hoping to find a buyer who’ll love and appreciate it as much as I do,” Mailey said of the property. “We’re just trying to find the right match. Once the building finds the right owner, we’ll start to think about the cidery.” Continue reading here.

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MEDARVA Foundation opens interactive medical science learning space at Short Pump Town Center

The center, open through the end of August, will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

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The MEDARVA Foundation has opened Surgeon Immersion, an experiential center at Short Pump Town Center, during the month of August. Admission-free, the center will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

“We are excited to celebrate MEDARVA Healthcare’s 70th anniversary by bringing our mission directly to the community,” said Joanne Whiley, chair of MEDARVA Healthcare’s Board of Directors. “We were well known as the Richmond Eye and Ear Hospital for our first fifty years. This is a great opportunity to educate the community on the ways we have evolved since and how we provide service today.”

MEDARVA Healthcare is the last Richmond-based, independent, non-profit health system, operating MEDARVA Surgery Centers at Stony Point and West Creek, MEDARVA Imaging Center, MEDARVA Low Vision Center, and the MEDARVA Foundation.

“The MEDARVA Foundation has been quietly funding medical research at VCU Medical School and UVA Medical School, among others, as well as supporting other local nonprofits that provide direct care to the medically underserved,” explained Cheryl Jarvis, chair of the MEDARVA Foundation Board of Directors.  “But during the pandemic, we started to see the need to support younger scientific researchers as they first start out in middle and high school.  The level of work these students are performing is amazing, and when we started to think about how we could highlight them and inspire others, we developed the idea of a community space that would engage and educate.”

MEDARVA Foundation’s Surgeon Immersion will be open every day in August from Short Pump Town Center’s opening until 7:00 pm (6:00 pm on Sundays) and includes a state-of-the-art digital cadaver table, and simulated surgery kiosks, 2022 Science Fair winning projects, children vision screenings, and more.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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