At the height of spring along the Lehigh River in the Poconos, Kenneth Powley, president and owner of Whitewater Challengers, is usually paddling through resumes and organizing phone calls of the hundreds of people he would normally be hiring for tourists to tackle the rapids of the swift rolling whitecaps.
But not this year.
“It’s really out of hands,” he said followed by a deep breath and a long pause. “I think like most people, we are taking it day by day.”
With the Lehigh Gorge State Park and other state parks closed to group activities, river guides, kitchen staff, photographers, rental shop workers, camping crews, grounds crews, office crews and truck drivers won’t need to be hired.
“It’s completely up in the air,” he said.
Powley runs the rafting, biking and camping expeditions along the Lehigh River and hopes the seasonal workers he normally employs can return by July or August.
“But will people come? What will the mood of the country be?” he said.
Ginny Turano, executive director of the Lackawanna County Workforce Development Board, said those looking for seasonal work may need to think outside of the box involving places that are hiring during the pandemic.
“Aldi, Amazon, Big Lots, CVS Health, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Domino’s Pizza, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Papa John’s, Walgreens and Walmart,” she said. “They are all hiring.”
Turano said healthcare facilities and shipping and delivery services are also hiring. She said there’s been an uptick in the number of online learning companies who are hiring as they look for instructors.
Since mid-March, more than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment compensation, according to Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.
Turano said from mid-March to mid-April, Lackawanna County alone saw 18,222 new unemployment claims filed.
“It’s a good amount of claims,” she said. “We normally don’t have that many in a one-month timeframe.”
Will we recover? Turano is optimistic, but timing is key.
She said seasonal jobs are taking an immediate hit.
“Will things open up?” she said. “A lot depends on how quickly things can reopen. It depends on how fast this all subsides.”
The Pew Research Center found in 2019 that summer employment has been slowly decreasing in the past few years, largely due to few low-skill available jobs and more schools ending later and starting earlier.
Turano said Pennsylvania has launched a Covid-19 job portal where businesses that have job openings can list them – jobs that are available now.
“It’s very active,” she said. “There are more than 100 businesses listed now and they are quickly working to many more added to the list.”
The hospitality industry – hotels, restaurants and retail – will come back quicker than other industries, said Turano, as the economy slowly begins to reopen.
Governor Tom Wolf has targeted May 8 to begin a slow rollout. It will be done in phases by color and by county and region.
“This is all so hard to predict and there are so many unanswered questions,” she said. “We just don’t know.”