Rand Paul talks labor, inflation with Chamber board members

Members of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce board of directors told U.S. Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday morning that jobs and hiring are a concern.

During a roundtable discussion Paul held at the Chamber offices downtown, several of the board members said that hiring has been difficult.

Paul, a Bowling Green Republican, said enhanced and extended unemployment insurance benefits that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic have put people who otherwise would have been working out of the job market.

“What if you are hurting the people you are trying to help?” with unemployment benefits, Paul said at the top of the discussion.

According to a May 26 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kentucky’s unemployment rate in April was 11.6%. Regionally, unemployment rates were 10% or higher in Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia as well.

But, unemployment rates fell in all 120 counties in Kentucky in April. According to state statistics reported in the May 30 Messenger-Inquirer, Daviess County’s unemployment rate in April was back at its pre-pandemic level, as 3.6%.

Hiring and retention was a frequent theme when Chamber board members voiced their concerns.

Board member Dave Roberts, who is with UniFirst Corp., said the COVID-19 pandemic affected supply chains, and that “lack of labor participation” is an issue for the company.

“It’s a staffing crisis for us,” Roberts said.

Later, Roberts said, “If labor availability remains low, we are going to have to plan accordingly, and do more with less.”

Board member Brenda Clayton said she has struggled with staffing at her accounting business.

“Finding employees is tough,” Clayton said.

State Rep. Suzanne Miles, an Owensboro Republican, said, “We need bodies. We need people to show up” for work.

“We have a labor issues,” said Sarah Murphy Ford, of Hartz Contacting. “We are having to work our guys overtime, which is wearing them out.”

Paul, in his opening remarks, said he believes extra federal overtime payments have created a disincentive for workers.

Extended benefits can put people out of work permanently, Paul said, because companies will pick a person who has been unemployed for a short period over someone who has long been collecting unemployment payments.

“You’ve made them a non-worker,” Paul said.

COVID-19 relief has had the effect of causing prices to rise through inflation, Paul said. Stimulus payments are of little benefit when prices rise, Paul said.

“What if, a year later, my purchasing power has gone down?” Paul said. “Am I really richer?”

After the meeting, Paul said he is hearing about prices increasing in his meetings across the state.

Paul added that he doesn’t think price increases are temporary.

“I think we are going to get generalized inflation,” Paul said.