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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 are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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