Jun 24, 2021 - Podcasts

The effects of the worker shortage

This morning, we’re bringing you the stories of how a labor shortage is affecting two industries: airlines and small, long-standing businesses.

  • Plus, President Biden’s executive orders on gun violence.
  • And, Ibram X. Kendi on voting rights.

Guests: Axios' Joann Muller, Emma Way and Marisa Fernandez, and How to Be an Antiracist's Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, June 24th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: President Biden’s executive orders on gun violence. Plus, Ibram X. Kendi on voting rights.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: what a lack of workers means for businesses we rely on.

NIALA: This morning, we’re bringing you the stories of how a labor shortage is affecting two industries. Let’s start with airlines.

Travelers are making their way back to airports in droves. Just this past Sunday, TSA said they screened MORE THAN 2 million people, the highest number since March 2020. But airlines may not be ready for this.

Joann Muller is Axios’ transportation correspondent and is here with the latest on this slice of the labor shortage. Good morning Joann.

JOANN MULLER: Good morning. Niala

NIALA: One example of this is American Airlines which we heard them say recently they're canceling hundreds of flights. Is this all because they don't have enough workers?

JOANN: Right, they have a shortage of pilots and other associated jobs and this really goes back to the furloughs that occurred back in October of 2020. The industry is going through some growing pains right now because it's rebounded much faster than anyone could have thought.

On the other hand, we need to remember that this is only about 1% of American Airlines’ overall flight schedule. And they've been pretty proactive in addressing this so that hopefully people are not seeing delays on the day of travel. They're being rebooked before then.

NIALA: And this isn't just American airlines though when we're talking, for example, about the pilot shortage. That's happening across the industry. How are airlines trying to solve this?

JOANN: Well, that's true. Delta has said they're going to hire about a thousand pilots between now and next summer. United Airlines is also hiring more pilots and they've created a new airline academy. They're going to try to recruit 5,000 pilots between now and 2030, but what's interesting is they're working hard to make sure that half of those pilots are either women or people of color.

NIALA: I imagine it takes a lot of training to be officially licensed as a pilot. How long is that pipeline?

JOANN: Well, apparently pilots need about 1500 hours of airtime before they can be certified and that's frankly, a very expensive thing to do. So it's not easy to get certified. Most pilots in the past have come through the military. But what's also important to note, and this goes back to the pandemic, is that when a pilot is furloughed they're not able to get the training that they ordinarily would have on a regular basis. And so this has a long tail and pilots can not just jump back into the cockpit and carry on.

NIALA: So you mentioned with American Airlines, for example, it’s just less than 1% of flights, what should travelers expect this summer?

JOANN: Passengers need to be patient. These crews are really stressed and doing all they can, but there's so many people who want to fly and so you just need to pack your patience and you'll get where you need to go. Just be patient

NIALA: Every time we have a conversation about air travel this summer, Joann, you and I are going to remind people to be well-behaved.


NIALA: Actually, this is Joanne Mueller from Detroit. Thank you, Joann.

JOANN: Thank you. Niala

NIALA: In 15 seconds, what the labor shortage has meant for longstanding businesses.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. It’s not just airlines that are short on workers. Small businesses in the food and service industry are scrambling to stay open and many are citing the labor shortage as one of the main reasons.

Today we wanted to zoom in on one of those restaurants - Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte, North Carolina which closed this past weekend. On its last day people waited in line for hours to enjoy some chicken.

Axios Charlotte editor Emma Way recorded that audio for us. Hi Emma.

EMMA WAY: Hey Niala

NIALA: Emma, what did the owners of Price’s say about why they were closing?

EMMA: Well, they cited a lot of reasons. The labor shortage was definitely one. There was also the increase in the cost of food and then there was the coin shortage. They’re an all-cash establishment so that was obviously a big challenge that they had had.

NIALA: We just heard some audio of their last day. What else was the mood like?

EMMA: It was like a block party in Charlotte. There were thousands of people. I think that there were probably thousands over the few days. People drove miles. One person drove 400 miles from Florida to make it there. I had one reader that reached out saying they were trying to get a standby flight to Charlotte just to get one last box of fried chicken.

NIALA: How much does what happened at Price’s mirror what's happening in other cities and towns across the country right now?

EMMA: Yeah, it mirrors it a lot. The pandemic has hit these mom and pop shops especially hard. The National Restaurant Association said that of restaurants that closed during 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, the majority were these sort of long-standing businesses that meant a lot to communities.

Price’s had been around for 59 years. Its owners were really experienced and it's sad to lose those types of places that mean so much in a community. I look at the future of the dining scene in Charlotte and in cities all around the world - Take fried chicken, for example, they opened this new trendy spot and they say authentic fried chicken, Southern fried chicken and what they're basing it off of is places like Price’s. Without places like Price’s, those restaurants, they probably won't be as good. They won't have that authentic element. And I think we're seeing that as we lose more mom and pop places, not just because of the pandemic, but overall we're losing some of that character in communities in Charlotte and elsewhere.

NIALA: Axios Charlotte editor, Emma Way. Thanks, Emma.

EMMA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We had more gun-related deaths in 2020 than the U.S. had in decades - and 2021 is on pace to be even worse. President Biden this week announced executive orders to curb gun violence, with one focus being to manage the flow of firearms. Our own Axios’ Marisa Fernandez tells us that applications for gun violence research have been up, too.

MARISA FERNANDEZ: What that means is there are a lot of science evidence-based research products out there to try and understand and tackle these issues, that a lot of policy makers and community leaders on the streets don't really know how to understand. Like how to educate the public on gun violence prevention or how to provide people with firearm lockups.

NIALA: We’re following this closely here at Axios Today, so stay tuned.

Republican senators this week blocked a major elections overhaul bill, The For the People Act, from moving forward. It's the latest chapter in the fight over voting rights in America, one that's become as much about political party as anything else. This year, more than a dozen states have already implemented new laws that restrict voting access.

Dr. Ibram X Kendi is a historian, author and host of the new Pushkin podcast Be Antiracist and is joining us Thursdays this summer for his analysis of major issues of the day. Dr. Kendi, you've said this battle over voting rights affects every person in this country. How so?

KENDI: what I mean by that is, you know, in states that have passed these new bills, it's not just going to be harder for an urban black, Democrat to vote. It's going to be harder for a rural, white Republican to vote. This is really a war on American voters.

NIALA: What would you say to people who don't see this as a war on American voters? Let's take voter fraud. I wonder how you bridge the gap between Americans who say they're worried about voter fraud, then on the other end of the spectrum, people who worry about this essential right in our democracy being taken away. It's very clear that people are not on the same page about the way that you're framing this issue.

KENDI: And I think that's the tragedy. That you have many Americans who have been told by people they trust that there was widespread voter fraud when there's very little, if any, documented evidence of voter fraud. But they, you know, they trust their elected officials that they trust their radio hosts. And, and it's unfortunate because in many cases, the powerful producers of this idea that there's widespread voter fraud know that there is not widespread voter fraud. But the people who are consuming it don't necessarily know that. So many Americans are being fed this poison that there's widespread voter fraud, which then in substantiating these bills that are going to even make it hard for those very people to vote, as well as the rest of us.

NIALA: Dr. Ibram X Kendi is a historian and the author of how to be an anti-racist.

That's it for us today. If you want more news before tomorrow - tune into our afternoon podcast Axios Re:Cap. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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