For four weeks, Meagan Quigley couldn’t find anyone to watch her son.
Quigley, who lives in Champaign County’s Villa Grove, is mom to Morgan – a sixteen-year-old who has Autism and epilepsy.
On top of the struggle to find childcare, Quigley said she also needs to find workers who have the skills to handle his outbursts and seizures. Those happen often, she said.
“I didn’t even know how I was going to pay my bills at that point because I didn’t have any workers at all,” Quigley said. “I had nobody for almost four weeks.”
Illinois is ranked 11th for the most expensive infant care out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to
data from the Economic Policy Institute. Quigley said childcare is her largest expense, even exceeding her mortgage and car payments.
And when she can’t find childcare, she can’t work.
“You’ve got workers who find it difficult to get childcare that potentially keeps them out of the labor force,” Weaver said. “And you’ve got childcare workers [who are] less willing to go into the occupation or stay in the occupation when they have other options right now.”
Childcare isn’t just an issue for the Quigley’s.
The care industry has been in crisis for decades, Julie Kashen, a childcare policy researcher with The Century Foundation, said.
Care workers are often not paid enough to justify staying in the industry for long, she said.
“People who love working with children [and] are very good at working with children find themselves going over to Starbucks, where they could make more money and have health benefits,” Kashen said.
There will be almost 4.5 million job openings in home healthcare nationwide in the next decade, according to
data from the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. In the next three years, there will be almost 15,000 job openings for home healthcare positions in Illinois, according to the Projections Managing Partnership.
Quigley is still hiring more people to care for Morgan as more workers quit or just stop showing up. She’s saving up to pay more for care as school lets out for summer break.
But as her biggest priority, she’ll always make sure Morgan is in good hands.
“You just take it a day at a time. I mean, it’s my life. It’s what I do,” Quigley said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Chapter Five: Labor Shortage Has Black Dog Searching for Staff
Before the pandemic hit, there were two Black Dog locations in Champaign County: one in Champaign and one in Urbana.
Today, only the Champaign location survives.
“It was sad, but it was not difficult to make,” Pedro Heller, the co-owner of Black Dog, said. “There was no option.”
That hard decision, Heller said, was because of a lot of things. But mainly, he just didn’t have the staff he needed to stay open.
“A lot of people got laid off, they found other jobs, a lot of people went into business for themselves,” Heller said. “We’ve had some people leave because of childcare issues. A lot of people decided they’ve had enough of this business and they found something more to their liking where they don’t have to work nights or weekends.”
Black Dog Smoke and Ale House is a staple in the Champaign area serving favorites like barbecue and cornbread.
In addition to raising wages for his staff, the prices of ingredients like meat also rose.
Balancing the prices of the food and the wages of the staff has been a huge challenge during the pandemic, Heller said.
“You go to a restaurant on a Friday night or a Saturday night and you see that they’re busy, and you say, ‘Wow, they’re doing good business,’” Heller said. “But this business had to succeed every day of the week.”
Now, Heller said he is focused on taking care of his Champaign location.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to what it used to be before COVID,” Heller said. “But we’ll just see.”
Chapter Six: Finding New Ways to Connect at Maize Mexican Grill
In almost every restaurant throughout Champaign County, customers will be greeted by signs that read “Now Hiring” or “Help Wanted.”
It’s no mystery to Armando Sandoval, the owner of Maize Mexican Grill, why that is.
“This is a restaurant town,” Armando Sandoval, the owner of Maize Mexican Grill, said. “We’re all basically competing with one another for employees.”
The competition between business for staff was already there. But when the pandemic-induced labor shortage struck, it got even worse, he said. One reason he lost staff, Sandoval said, is that unemployment payments and stimulus checks were paying more than he could at Maize.
“They were making more money with unemployment than they would earn if they were to come back to work,” Sandoval said.
With two locations in Champaign, Sandoval has even more issues with staffing. He also needs skilled staff that make things like homemade tortillas. And although he often doesn’t have the staff he needs and wait times are longer than usual, he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“People have shifted the way they work [and] how they live their lives so I think this is going to be our new normal,” Sandoval said.
Chapter Seven: Pandemic melts away pure bliss at Jarling’s Custard Cup
On hot summer nights, cars pile into the parking lot of Jarling’s in Champaign waiting for crispy waffle cones and smooth custard.
Although the ice cream shop always has a healthy line of customers, staff is another problem.
That’s when Ashlee Rhodes, the general manager of Jarling’s, had to reduce the shop’s hours because they couldn’t find enough people to work.
“It just got to the point where it wasn’t fair to the staff [and] it wasn’t fair to the customers,” Rhodes said.
Typically, the line of applicants is as healthy as the line of customers. But after the summer during the pandemic, people stopped filling out job applications, Rhodes said.
“Usually we have just tons of applications – it’s a non-stop thing,” she said. “It’s kind of sad that we can’t do what we used to do as long as we had been doing it.”
Pay rates for those 18 and up at Jarling’s start at $6.90 per hour plus shared tips, according to hiring documents.
Now, Rhodes said she’s working to get the shop back to where it was.
“We want to get our hours back to normal. We want to get that full crew back in. We want everybody to be healthy and safe,” Rhodes said.
“We just want that normal back.”