They are calling it “the Great Resignation,” or just “The Big Quit.”

Over the past few months, a huge number of Americans — 4 million in July alone, according to the U.S. Department of Labor — have quit their jobs. Others have evidently left the labor force altogether and are no longer even looking for employment.

Meanwhile, employers — from hospitality to agriculture to transportation — say they can’t find the workers they need as they try to bounce back from pandemic shutdowns and restrictions.

From container ships at anchor off major ports for a lack of longshoremen to unload them to a Rehoboth seafood shack that told customers it had to close its season early this month because it couldn’t find staff to serve up fried clams and fish and chips, the labor shortage has impacted businesses large and small.

It’s not supposed to work this way.

After a recession — even a self-imposed one caused by COVID-19 lockdowns — demand for labor grows as businesses reopen. Workers who were laid off when their employers shut down happily return to jobs in their old industries or perhaps find better ones at higher pay. Wages and prices rise, but eventually level off (whether due to market forces or government intervention is a debate for another time) as the economy returns to normal and the usual laws of supply and demand take hold.

That’s what many economists expected this fall. It’s why some business owners predicted we’d see a new “Roaring ’20s” with pent-up demand fueling a buying spree that would reignite the consumer spending economy that has traditionally been the engine of growth.

At first, some bosses blamed overly generous government unemployment assistance. The usual jobless benefits — insurance into which workers and employers paid — were being supplemented by federal subsidies that meant some workers were actually making more money not working than they would have if they returned to their jobs.

The fact that those complaints often came from employers in low-wage, high-stress businesses like restaurants and bars doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t valid. But when those special subsidies ended over the summer and chastened workers did not come looking for jobs, that argument lost some of its bite.

Were the jobless just lazy — as some employers and lawmakers claimed — or were they being canny in waiting for jobs that offered them the pay and benefits they felt they needed to support themselves and their families?

Some states cut back on the additional federal help even before it was due to expire in hopes of helping industries reopen. Most of the supplemental programs reached the end of their runs by autumn anyway.

One poll by CNBC and Morning Consult found that 65% of those surveyed said unemployment benefits were not a factor in their rejecting a job. Instead, they cited too-low salary (36%), concerns about COVID-19 (35%) and the need to care for family (31%). In fact, 76% of those offered a new position said the proposed wages were lower than their prior job.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 unemployed workers in June, showed the trickle-down effect of job openings had not reached some of the jobless — at least, not yet. Some 87% said they had not received job offers in the last six months.

Since then, the resurgence of the new strains of the COVID-19 virus has further depressed job creation. That, officials hope, is only temporary. But there may be other factors at work, too.

Financial website MarketWatch reported that many older Americans have simply dropped out of the labor force and retired, while younger people may have chosen the COVID-related downturn to further their education, aided by remote learning. Many women hesitate to return to full-time employment because the cost of daycare is so high.

And there may be an intangible in play as well. After spending months at home with a tight circle of family, some people may have discovered they need a better balance in their work and home lives. Or they don’t need to work quite as much to have what they really need.

This month, The Sun Chronicle asked area employers and workers in a number of fields to describe what the new environment of working life has been like.

Some said that they have tried offering higher wages and added benefits to little avail. One said his company had interviewed applicants for positions, made job offers and had them accepted, only to be “ghosted” by workers who never showed up for their first day.

Others have had to deal with the ripple effect of the pandemic that has nothing to do with local labor issues. Shortages of computer chips, automobile windshield glass or even favorite liquor brands caused by kinks in a worldwide supply chain still trying to untangle itself have made it hard to meet consumer demand.

No one has a clear cut answer to the problem. But one employer asked to put out this message: “We’re hiring.”

The accounts of how employers are dealing with the issue follow.

****

Applications at Achin’s Garage had been trickling in slowly for quite some time, but those working in the auto repair shop certainly did not expect them to stop coming in altogether.

With the labor shortage and other complications stemming from the pandemic, though, Achin’s has had little luck in bringing in new applicants in the past year.

“We’ve always had people come in the door looking for work, or we’d put an ad on Facebook or Craigslist and have people respond to it and come in to fill out applications. Right now, we’re only getting some calls back, people never showing up to fill out applications, or even, at times, no calls at all — nobody even calling to say that they’re interested in applying for a job,” Sarah Achin, one of the owners of Achin’s Garage, said.

And, with business having returned to pre-pandemic levels, these shortages are beginning to take a toll.

“A job that normally should only take a day or a day-and-a-half is taking two or three days because we’re trying to triage as best we can,” Achin said. “But there’s just not enough mechanics.”

“When we’re looking for tow truck drivers or service drivers, this also slows down how fast we get out to people on the road,” Achin added.

Most notably, Achin’s Garage has had to adjust their service hours to accommodate worker shortages.

“We used to be open on Saturday mornings to do service, but we have closed them off, and we now only do inspection stickers on Saturdays because we cannot get a mechanic to do service,” Achin explained.

Beyond the chip shortage, which emerged as a direct result of the pandemic and has since delayed and reduced the production of vehicles, it is also becoming more challenging to stock standard car parts needed for repairs.

“We’re experiencing part shortages, too, so getting parts for cars is harder and harder. Things that used to be in stock at many different stores are now challenging to find,” Achin said.

This, too, is anticipated to result in service delays throughout the auto repair industry.

****Once upon a time, if you wanted help on the family farm, you didn’t have to look beyond your family.

That’s not so easy when your needs are for an artisanal cheesemaker, a marketing manager or a chef who can whip up chili and stroganoff to expand your business model.

Besides, Terri Lawton, owner of Foxboro’s Oake Knoll Farm, jokes her kids are little, “and there are things like OSHA.”

Right now, Lawton, the 11th generation of her family to run the farm, has three people working for her, plus a part-time high school student. Prior to the pandemic, she had seven but she’s not sure she’ll be able to get back to that level.

“We are looking for an assistant cheesemaker, someone who can manage the farm stand, who can do marketing and sales,” she says. It’s not just mucking out stalls. In fact, some people seem to be put off that the farm uses technology, she says. “It’s not quite as pastoral as they thought.”

It’s not just the fact that she finds herself working 15-hour days; it’s missed opportunities as well. “For six months, we were looking for someone to cook for us” who could produce “comfort food” from meat produced on the farm in small batches that could be sold at the farm stand. “We called six people for interviews and only one showed up,” she says with some astonishment. “He wanted to be paid under the table so it wouldn’t affect his unemployment. We couldn’t do that.”

She says ruefully, “So that’s a business model we are not pursing.”

Lawton, who’s in her 40s, studied agriculture and business subjects at Purdue before returning to the farm that has been in her family since the 1730s. It’s a job she’s devoted to but she’s often dismayed by the pool of applicants.

“The people we interview, they are usually talking about all the right things and then they don’t show up. I’m not sure why,” she says. “For some it’s an issue of money. I’ve had people tell me that $70,000 is not a living wage. I was raised a little bit differently than that, to live within your means.”

It’s puzzling to her to hear that people who want to leave the corporate world for something else are not more willing to change.

“People are interested in getting into work places where people care for you,” she says. “I feel like that’s an appeal for us because we are a family-operated business.” People who work for her “can feel they are doing meaningful work, getting back to basics and enjoy the things we offer. We try to make an appealing workplace and have a personal touch that you wouldn’t get in the corporate world.” However, she says, “I can’t compete with a corporation offering $150,000.”

Supercharged Entertainment is about making people happy. It wants happy customers at its indoor go-kart track in Wrentham. That means, according to Chief Operating Officer Cody Browning, it wants happy workers, too.

Those, he says, have been hard to come by.

After just under a year in operation, Supercharged’s Route 1 complex — with its track, restaurants and trampoline park — was slammed shut, along with other entertainment venues by the state’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown in March 2020. They were deemed “nonessential.”

“We did not lay off any full-time employees,” Browning, 37, says. The company kept them on with pay and benefits until it was able to partially reopen that July. That way, even as the state went back and forth on its rules for restarting business, Browning says, “We were able to respond quickly to those changes.”

Even so, the Wrentham location is operating today with its multi-level track and trampoline park with 98 full- and part-time workers. Under normal circumstances, Browning says, it would have 130 to 140 employees.

It’s not for lack of trying. The company posts its job openings with all the usual suspects: online, internal marketing and paid media as well. Starting pay is $15 per hour, above the state’s $13.50 minimum. It’s also offering regular hours and stability. And while the company, Browning says, is selective in who it hires, it does not demand a lot of special skills. The most important thing for an employee is to have “a good personality,” that’s outgoing and friendly. “We are looking for people who can be outgoing and friendly among our guests.”

Browning says that, along with colleagues in other sectors of the hospitality and entertainment, “we are not seeing a surge in applications.” Like others, he’s seen applicants accept job positions and then not show up for work. “We’re kind of baffled by it.”

What does come through from applicants, he says, are not always demands for higher pay. Sometimes, it’s a promise of stable work and flexibility of hours (a lot of Supercharged workers are students, full time, part time and online).

“People are holding out until they find a job they want,” Browning says, or “they are finding they didn’t need to work at the level they did prior to COVID.”

But Browning wants one message to come through loud and clear: “We’re hiring.”

****The hiring picture at area nursing and retirement homes and agencies dealing with seniors is a mixed bag as the pandemic continues and workers face vaccine mandates.

“There certainly is a staffing shortage within health care in general,” said Diana Franchitto, president and CEO of HopeHealth, which runs the Community VNA in Attleboro. “It affects every home health care organization, not just us.”

HopeHealth has had less than 0.5% of its clinicians leave because they didn’t want to get the vaccine, Franchitto said.

“HopeHealth Community VNA is hiring but not because of a worker shortage. It’s because we are growing,” Franchitto said. “We are fortunate that our strong reputation in the communities we serve has helped us draw highly qualified candidates but we are always looking for more. That has been our ongoing challenge. We have several open positions, mostly in nursing.”

One of HopeHealth’s hiring strategies has been to offer work flexibility and generous sign-on bonuses, the president said.

Pond Home, a nursing home, and the Community at Pond Meadow, a retirement community, are located on East Street (Route 140) in Wrentham.

“I think the vaccine mandates are appropriate, but they add one more ‘have to’ for people and for some that is hard,” administrator Becky Annis said.

Life Care Center of Attleboro also has been dealing with the vaccine mandates but says staffing hasn’t been an issue.

“Life Care Center of Attleboro has been encouraging its residents and associates to get vaccinated against COVID-19 since the release of the vaccines, and we have been continually educating our staff about the efficacy of the vaccines and their valuable role in protecting our residents and fellow associates,” Executive Director Pat O’Connor said.

“While we believe that each individual should make informed decisions about the health care they receive, we have been and will continue to follow any government vaccination mandates,” O’Connor said.

The facility had a 98.5% vaccination rate.

“With some recent vaccinations, we expect that number to rise to 100% soon,” O’Connor added. “Thankfully, we maintain adequate staffing levels.”