Meat Prices Will Continue to Surge If Meatpackers Can't Find Workers Fast

With the pandemic igniting a collective reassessment of work, imagine posting openings for low-wage jobs that could require standing for 12-hour shifts, working six-day weeks and repeatedly lifting 70-pound objects in conditions that range from steaming hot to bloody and ice cold. And on top of all that, your industry recently made headlines for Covid-19 outbreaks that killed workers.

This is precisely what meatpackers are facing.

Of all the industries experiencing crunches for hourly labor, it’s hard to find one with a greater recruiting challenge. Companies have tried all the usual tricks to lure applicants, including offering signing bonuses of as much as $3,000, but they’re still short workers and, as a result, there are an increasing number of sparse shelves.

For America's meateaters, this is a problem. Some cuts have soared 25% over the past year, while others are fetching near record prices, making meat one of the biggest contributors to pandemic inflation. And industry experts expect meat to keep gaining through the holidays and beyond.

“The sticker shock is what we all need to be prepared for,” said Bindiya Vakil, chief executive officer of supply-chain consultant Resilinc. “This is here to stay, at least through the summer of 2022.”

Before Covid, meat processors struggled to meet their labor needs, which increased the hiring of immigrant workers mostly from Mexico. More than a third of the workforce was foreign born, according to a 2020 report by the Economic Policy Institute. That hurt the industry when the Trump administration curtailed immigration.