One of the key themes running through this year’s major trade shows is staffing. Or to be more accurate, inadequate staffing.

It’s not terribly hard to see why finding and keeping qualified workers remains such a challenge for senior living operators. Let’s start with the fact that the work is hard, the hours can be long (and include nights and weekends) and perks are often lacking. Nor does it help that we now have the lowest unemployment figures that have been posted in decades.

Most of the staffing-related sessions this year seem to be focused on finding ways to tempt more people to sign up and hang in there. And to be sure, there are some very innovative programs and experiments taking place.

But with all due respect to these various efforts, many don’t deal with the proverbial elephant in the room.

You see, at its core, we don’t have a cultural or perks problem here. We have a math problem. Simply put, senior living doesn’t pay its workers enough. Blasphemy, you say? Well please hear me out.

There are plenty of other occupations where the work is hard, the hours are long and the conditions are just this side of miserable – and the staffing situation is nowhere near as bad. To cite a few examples, do you think cable guys or laborers or bus drivers or rebar installers hop out of bed looking forward to the fun workday that awaits?

So why aren’t these and many thousands of other hard-to-do jobs in crisis-staffing mode? The answer my friends is simple: they pay better. Not much better in many instances. But enough to make a difference in households where every dollar matters.

Do you think the 7,000 dirt-poor souls currently walking through Mexico en route to our nation’s southern border are doing so in order to feel more empowered at work? Or because they want more atta boys from their bosses? I’m sure they’ll take those things, too. But their needs are far more basic: They don’t have enough money, and they want more.

The same goes for the folks who opt to work the warehouse floor at Amazon or the counter at Arby’s rather than your community.

If you want more people, you are going to have to figure out a way to pay them more. It’s that simple, and it’s also that difficult.

As for all the other talk? Well, until this sector’s math problem gets solved, that’s all it really is.