As newlyweds returning from our honeymoon, my wife and I couldn’t face the reality of starting married life by cooking our own dinner, so we did what all college students do in a culinary bind. We ordered a pizza.

Thus began the tradition of “Miller Family Pizza Night” that has run every Friday for 28 years without interruption … until a couple of weeks ago when we called our regular place with no answer.

We aren’t exactly millennials, but I figured I could try ordering online. But the system was down. We tried modeling our Gen Z kids by using an app, which resulted in an error message. It was time to try the old fashioned way — just walking in.

What I saw made me sad, sad for me and for the obviously overworked and stressed teenagers running the establishment. I told them I tried to call, and they explained they were too busy to answer the phones. I told them I tried ordering online and through the app, and they explained they had to turn it off. When I said I simply wanted to order my usual pepperoni pizza with extra sauce they told me it would be two hours. I thanked them for working so hard on a Friday night and walked back to my car, a defeated man.

As my wife and I drove to the grocery store to pick up a frozen pizza, I thought to myself — this labor shortage just got real.

Speaking of the grocery store, the labor shortage has gotten real for them, too, along with your favorite clothing store, hair salon, car dealership, doctor’s office, school, etc., etc., etc.

This disappointing experience — albeit minor — for our family, illustrates a much larger problem for our economy and the employers and employees that are striving valiantly to serve their customers. The current labor shortage has multiple factors but has roots in the beginning of the pandemic, when people felt unsafe going to work. It then was exacerbated by the federal government incentivizing people to stay on employment sidelines and the current and dramatic increases in omicron infections. Further, shortages in test kits and rapidly changing variants underscored the truism that nature always outpaces government action.

Despite these challenges, practical solutions exist to increase labor participation across the country. For example, the pandemic hastened the retirement of baby boomers with millions exiting the workforce. Women in the workforce were hit particularly hard as schools closed down and child care options dwindled. Employers can adjust workplace policies that facilitate and incentivize their return.

In addition to private sector solutions, governments at all levels should quickly assess and reform antiquated regulatory barriers keeping people out of the workforce. One simple example is lowering the age for a commercial driver’s license to 18 as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has proposed in pending congressional legislation.

Speaking of Congress, it is beyond time for immigration reform in visas for skilled labor that could provide both immediate and long-term relief.

There are also areas where the private and public sectors can work together, such as workforce training to elevate skills and entice people into high demand jobs. Expanding child care support is another area where government and business working in tandem would alleviate constraints on a large portion of the workforce.

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There is immeasurable value inherent in work that goes far beyond America’s economic well-being, a symbiotic relationship between the laborer, consumer, employer and even the welfare of those who, for legitimate reasons, may not be able to work. Sound policy must incentivize that intricate dynamic with an eye on long-term prosperity for all.

Our history has also proven that we have every reason to be optimistic when the right policies are in place. We are risk-takers with vision and stoics with heart, willing to assume responsibility and make almost any sacrifice if, in doing so, we can create meaning in our lives and protect the lives of those we love.

Now more than ever, our policies must be thoughtful, proven, and conducive to economic opportunity and prosperity for individuals and families. And sometimes the inspiration and ability to do something so profoundly important comes down to simply being able to get a pizza for the family on a Friday night.

Derek Miller is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber

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