COVID-19

Restaurants struggling to hire, despite high unemployment

Kristin Schwab Aug 27, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A chef prepares patrons' meals at a restaurant in Tampa, Florida. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
COVID-19

Restaurants struggling to hire, despite high unemployment

Kristin Schwab Aug 27, 2020
A chef prepares patrons' meals at a restaurant in Tampa, Florida. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Before COVID-19, the restaurant industry was already facing labor shortages. Now the low-wage work, plus the threat of exposure, are making it even tougher to find workers in some places.

Michelle Kaufman owns the Paddle Trap, a burgers and comfort food-type restaurant near Bismarck, North Dakota. She spends a part of her day, every day, posting jobs on Indeed. For every dozen interviews, she nets about one hire, and they’ll often last just a few shifts. When she asks why, they’ll say, “you know, I didn’t realize how many people I would be around every day, and I don’t want to take this home to my family,” Kaufman said.

The virus is hurting her bottom line. The staffing shortage is annoying potential customers who are eager to eat out.

“Guests will come in, and we’ll have to tell them that we’re on a 30-minute wait,” Kaufman said. “And they don’t understand why we’d be on a wait when we have empty tables.”

The restaurant industry came into the COVID crisis with a hiring problem. Lots of workers think of food jobs as transitional. Also, the food service industry was growing too fast, according to Eli Wilson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico who’s writing a book about restaurant labor.

“There already was more jobs to fill and not enough bodies willing to do this kind of work,” he said.

Another factor? A lot of people who do this work are on the extreme ends of the age spectrum. Many are older workers who are more susceptible to the virus. And many are younger people who live at home with parents. Alex Susskind directs the food and beverage institute at Cornell.

“The risks definitely outweigh the benefits for some of these folks,” Susskind said. “And if they need the money, they may be able to find other types of work that may be less risky.”

Possibly. Like retail or gig work, which can sometimes pay more than the average restaurant worker’s salary of $22,000 a year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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