Even at $40,000 annual salaries and $20 per hour for part-timers, restaurants like Chef Dan Jacobs’ chain in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are struggling to find enough help to get back to business despite a surge in consumer demand, Bloomberg reported.
“It’s a coin flip,” Jacobs told Bloomberg, regarding whether his restaurants will be able to hang on. “I have to be realistic and realize there is a distinct chance this will not work.”
Restaurants nationwide are ready to reopen, with the support of local politicians and the community. The bigger problem now isn’t restricted capacity or a lack of vaccinations, but an unwillingness by restaurant workers to get back into kitchens and dining rooms.
The labor shortage pushed hourly wages for restaurant staff to $16.28 an hour in March, the highest amount on record, Bloomberg reported, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
President Joe Biden earmarked $28.6 billion for the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, pointing to eateries as a “key part of the American story.” He also noted that restaurants have advanced socioeconomic mobility for minorities and immigrants.
The restaurant space in 2019 was an $860 billion-a-year industry with some 10.6 million people working in the field. Over 60 percent of Americans have worked in a restaurant, and almost half said it was their first regular job, per Bloomberg.
The numbers have fallen off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with federal data showing that restaurants and bars now employ 1.6 million fewer people than at the start of 2020. More than 50 percent of workers in the industry are considering a new field of employment due to low wages, according to a survey published last month by nonprofit One Fair Wage and the University of California at Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center, Bloomberg reported.
The industry started offering signing bonuses in an effort to lure back restaurant workers. Restaurants have also been using technology to reduce the dependence on staff. Annual wages for restaurant workers average between $11,000 and $27,000.
The number of people receiving unemployment benefits is still high, even as the demand for workers goes up. Some Republicans have pointed to the pandemic unemployment boost as the reason for prolonged staffing shortages.
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