The Vineyard has long lived with labor shortages. Help wanted is the usual cry of small business owners here. Even this week, with the swirl of news around the acrobatic stock market, and climbing rates of unemployment and foreclosures across the state and the nation, it is worth noting that employment on the Island remains relatively strong.
Figures released on Tuesday indicate that unemployment here is less than three per cent, and only half a per cent higher than at the same time last year — remarkable considering the nationwide slump, where the unemployment rate is over six per cent. In Massachusetts, only Nantucket had a lower rate; across the Sound in New Bedford, unemployment has risen almost two per cent on the year, to seven and a half per cent.
While it is heartening for the Vineyard economy that jobs are off by only a few hundred here, each one of those Islanders will need help. And as the Island’s traditional jobless season approaches, and more of our friends and neighbors join that number, town and Islandwide policymakers and business owners would be wise to examine anew possible structural improvements as to how we can making a living here.
Will there ever be an innovative way to address the challenge that nearly all business owners here face, housing for seasonal workers? Are there ways that we can better encourage jobs with wages commensurate with the cost of living, wages that allow families to afford live here year round? Are there yet-unplumbed ways to collaborate to ensure we use Island workers and businesses rather than exporting our spending?
With the economy sharpening our focus, perhaps necessity would be the mother of inventive ideas to address long-term problems.