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For The Children Weekly Column

Labor Shortages Impact More than a Night Out

October 18, 2021

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column

Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117

Email: jdorman@oica.org

Labor Shortages Impact More than a Night Out

Worker Losses in Healthcare & Education Put Children at Risk

Workplace shortages are hitting almost every industry, from short staffing in restaurants and other service industries to even more critical need areas. This is partly due to the pandemic, with others deciding to downsize and not be dual-income households.

Recent studies conducted by the Oklahoma House of Representatives examined the shortage of teachers in that critical workplace. This is not new; I held a similar study almost a decade ago.  Even then, the number of college students preparing to become educators would not match the need.

This latest review shows the problem has only increased, partly due to fears of health from COVID-19. Thank you to Reps. Rhonda Baker, Sherrie Conley, John Waldron, and those other lawmakers who reviewed the issue.

From his study, Waldron cited a Tulsa World analysis showing summertime teacher retirements were up nearly 38 percent year-over-year. The Teachers’ Retirement System reports retirements the previous two summers remained fairly level at 1,622 during the months of May through August in 2019 and 1,600 during 2020. During that same period this year, 2,205 Oklahoma teachers retired.

Sabra Tucker, executive director of the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association, said the reasons teachers gave were similar: “My health is not worth staying in the classroom. As much as I love teaching and students, I do not love all the stress of being in the classroom with unrealistic expectations and more and more demands than I have ever had before in my entire career.” Changes in the profession, with the pandemic and changing attitudes of students make teaching even more difficult.

In the Baker and Conley study, we learned Oklahoma must find new strategies to attract teachers because more than 21 percent of the state’s teachers are 55 and nearing retirement. One solution proposed is to align Oklahoma standards to match other states in some areas, making it easier to recruit new teachers.

Healthcare is another area of critical concern. According to Vickie White-Rankin, representing the Oklahoma Nurses Association, Oklahoma has been in the bottom four states in the nation for the nurses per capita for decades. The nursing shortage has been exacerbated by COVID-19. The long-standing nursing shortage has contributed to Oklahoma’s poor health outcomes and impacts every Oklahoman to their last breath. Dr. Jean Hausheer, former Oklahoma State Medical Association president, said Oklahoma lost over 200 nurses since January here in Oklahoma.

Some good news is that $100 million from American Rescue Plan will be directed to the National Health Service Corps beginning in September 2022 to address the healthcare worker shortage. This program will place primary care doctors in communities that have difficulty recruiting and retaining them. This is critical in rural areas of our state. The nation lost 17,500 health care employees in September alone, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, with more than half a million lost since the start of the pandemic.

States may apply for grants until April and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts it will make up to 50 awards as high as $1 million per year over the course of four years.

The impact of work shortages on our healthcare system and schools is critical for the wellbeing of Oklahoma’s children. OICA will be examine these issues during our Fall Forum this week, as we work to create the Children’s Legislative Agenda for 2022.  Go to oica.org to learn more about how you can help.

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