GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Job seekers are struggling with the barriers of child care and wages, a new survey found.
West Michigan Works! has released its third annual talent survey, examining the barriers and struggles current job seekers are facing. Just over 700 people took the survey this summer, after West Michigan Works! invited people who had been involved with the organization in the past year.
West Michigan Works! conducted the survey to inform their work with community partners and “come up with data-driven solutions,” COO Angie Barksdale said.
“It’s easy to sit back and make assumptions about what’s happening and why there’s this tension within the labor market, and why an employer says, ‘I can’t find anyone to work for me,'” she said. “Well, what is it that’s happening with our job seekers?”
The results of the survey weren’t surprising, Barksdale said.
“It really reaffirms some of the stuff we’ve been hearing and feeling when we’re working with our employers and our job seekers,” she said.
Of the 702 people who responded to the survey, about half were currently employed, and two thirds were looking for a new job. Two of the top barriers job seekers are seeing are child care and wages and benefits, Barksdale said, adding that is consistent with what they saw over the last two years.
Nine percent of the respondents had a least one kid who needs child care and 31.6% had children in their household. Of those that needed child care, 78% said paying for child care is a barrier and 75% said finding child care is a barrier.
One respondent said they work two jobs, putting in around 95 hours every two weeks, and was “considering getting back on WIC.”
“Child care needs are crippling financially,” the respondent said.
Parents are having issues with not just finding and paying for child care, but also finding a job where they’re able to transport kids in school, Barksdale said. A total of 46% said providing transportation is a barrier.
A total of 62% of respondents said inadequate wages is a barrier, while almost half of respondents who had jobs said they don’t make enough to meet their needs.
“We still have a big group of individuals who are working but are unable to have employment that meets the wage or the income needs in order to be sustaining or thriving within our community. So there is a lot of pressure in that space for both employers and job seekers,” Barksdale said.
Job seekers also reported frustrations with the application and interview process. Complaints including poorly designed job searches, companies saying they’re hiring when they aren’t, and companies having a lack of communication or ghosting applicants.
A total of 87% of job seekers said they were putting in moderate effort or more into a job search, while 22% reported moderate success or more. One respondent said they applied to around 250 to 300 jobs in half a year and had seven interviews.
“Only 2 of those I have made it to the second round of interviews,” the respondent wrote. “Also, none of them seem willing to give me feedback on how I can improve … It has been mentally debilitating trying to keep applying to new jobs every week with how difficult the market is right now.”
Other barriers include work-life balance and biases.
The survey report included a couple of recommendations for workforce development agencies, employers and society. It suggested improving the application process by listing wages on job ads, reviewing algorithms, communicating with applicants about their status and letting them know when a positions filled.
It also suggested looking for and fixing biases in the hiring process. Finally, it said it’s important to ensure parents can find affordable child care.
“I’m glad for this survey,” one respondent work. “The job market is horrible. I realize that this (comment) is just stats on a spreadsheet, but something needs to be done … I have two degrees, great experiences. No hits. No jobs. I am living paycheck to paycheck. If I didn’t have a friend to employ me, I’d still be unemployed.”
Barksdale said West Michigan Works! will share the information with economic developers, education providers and community-based organizations in the area. It will also use the information to determine how to effectively help job seekers and employers.
She said employers can work with organizations like West Michigan Works! to help solve some of the problems on their end, like doing a wage analysis or finding initiatives to help offer childcare benefits.
“For a job seeker, organizations like ourselves offer resources to help them in in terms of their job searching, looking at what their skills and abilities are … helping them prepare and look for that next occupation or career as well as being able to assist with training resources and support services in that career exploration work,” she said.
Of the respondents who had jobs, 34% were thinking about leaving, while 29% said they were worried about being laid off. Half were female, 41% were male, 1% was non-binary or self-described, and 8% preferred not to answer.
A total of 67.1% were white, 10.1% were Black, 4.6% were Hispanic or Latino, 1.1% were Asian, 0.3% were Native American or Alaska Native. A total of 2.8% were multiracial, 2.3% were another race or self-described, and 11.7% said they’d prefer not to answer.
The respondents had a variety of education levels: 1.6% had less than high school, 14.7% finished high school, 20.8% had some college, 7% went to a technical or trade school, 12.1% had a two-year degree, 24.4% had a four-year degree, 12.4% had a graduate degree, while 7.1% preferred not to answer.
Fifteen counties were represented in the survey. Kent County was represented the most, with 242 residents responding to the survey, or 34.5% of the 702.