SINCE THE PANDEMIC
Jankowski said while he believes the reduced unemployment benets would spur hiring, it would be dicult to determine how much of an eect it will have on hiring until July employ- ment data is released in August. Raa said he believes expanded unemployment benets and stimulus checks have factored into the di- culty of nding new workers, but he also said many of his former employ- ees found jobs in other industries after restaurants scaled back due to COVID-19 restrictions. Melissa Stewart, regional executive director for the southeast region of the Texas Restaurant Association, said losing workers during the pandemic was common across the industry. “When a lot of restaurants had to reduce their workforce because they did not know what was going to be happening in April and May of 2020, many of our workers left the indus- try,” Stewart said. “They didn’t go on unemployment. They didn’t have that option. They left us and went almost directly to something else, and usu- ally that was a retail or another kind of service job. … Those folks are no longer in the workforce pool.” Stewart noted of the approximate 86,000 people in the Greater Houston area enrolled in unemployment benets, fewer than 1,100 were identied as coming from the hospitality industry. Raa said, however, he has seen an uptick in responses to his employment ads since the addi- tional unemployment benets ended June 26; he has since been able to hire two new employees. Perez, on the other hand, said she is still struggling to hire newworkers for both of her restaurants. “I was thinking, if the unemploy- ment [benets are] over and done with, we’ll get a whole wave of peo- ple coming in, but we haven’t,” Perez said. “We don’t know what’s going on or how much longer we’re going to be Jankowski also said a lack of child care options has aected people’s ability to seek employment. “Day care is still a signicant issue in this state,” Jankowski said. “A lot of day cares closed because of fears of COVID. Parents pulled their children out. Although we’re seeing a large number of those reopen, a fourth of all day cares that closed during COVID are still closed.” In May, Texas lawmakers failed to able to deal with this.” Looking for solutions
I WAS THINKING, IF THE UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ARE OVERANDDONE WITH, WE’LL GET A WHOLEWAVE OF PEOPLE COMING IN, BUTWE HAVEN’T.
The unemployment rate in the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area has remained above 6.6% since the pandemic started with more than 224,000 individuals still unemployed as of May—the most recent data available.
On June 23, state data showed 889,021 job openings in Texas.
ROSA PEREZ, LOCAL RESTAURANT OWNER
pass a bill that would have funded virtual learning throughout the state, meaning most students will be back in classrooms this fall. Jankowski said he believes there will be a boost in employment numbers when schools reopen and parents no longer need to stay at home with their children. Jonathan Lewis, senior policy ana- lyst with nonprot Every Texan, said more people will gain employ- ment when they nd jobs that meet their skillsets and needs—including increased wages. “I think the narrative has really been altered to make it seem like workers are choosing not to work, but I think the reality is people do want to get back to work,” Lewis said. “It takes time to nd the right match for work- ers and employers, so I think this is to be expected that it would take a little bit of time for folks to nd positions that are suitable for them and that match their skills and the require- ments that they have for a job, be it location, hours [or] … pay.” According to Perez, many of the people who have applied to her restaurants were not well suited for the positions. “We get people interested who have no experience, as far as a bartender who’s never bartended before,” she said. “People need to know how to make a drink if they’re going to work in a bar.” To reduce turnover, Perez raised her kitchen sta’s hourly wage by as much as $2 in some positions, although she noted that increase has not landed her any new employees. “I was thinking when we went up some [in pay] that we would nd other employees, but it looks like peo- ple don’t want to work yet,” she said. Anna Lotz and Brooke Ontiveros contributed to this report.
SOURCES: TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION, U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICSCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
A survey of 506 Americans who became unemployed during the pandemic was conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late May regarding barriers to re-entering the workforce.
of respondents said they are not actively looking for work. 49% 23% of respondents said they lack the skills or experience necessary for most jobs available.
30% of respondents said they do not expect to return to work this year. 24% of respondents reported child care and family needs.
13% of respondents said they never plan to return to work. 26% reported COVID-19 concerns as reasons they are not looking for work.
SOURCE: U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCECOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
“There’s denitely a labor short- age,” Jankowski said. “The causes of the labor shortages are somewhat in dispute, but a signicant portion is the fact that we were given very gen- erous unemployment benets.” Last year, unemployment benet eligibility was temporarily extended as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and an additional $300 in benets per week was given to those who qualied. “The average unemployment bene- t in the U.S. is $346 a week,” Jankow- ski said. “If you’re unemployed and you’re getting the average benet, plus the additional $300, you’re mak- ing $16.15 an hour just to stay home.” InMay, Gov. GregAbbott announced Texas would opt out of the extra $300 per week after June 26.
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for months,” Perez said. “We can’t necessarily go back to 100% when we don’t have enough sta.” Perez said she estimates her restau- rants are losing close to $10,000 a week in sales because she does not have enough employees to run them at full capacity. “People are excited to get back out because we see the trac coming through, but then we have to stop them at our doors,” Perez said. “They get upset, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s a struggle.” Contributing factors Patrick Jankowski, senior vice pres- ident of research at the Greater Hous- ton Partnership, said employers are struggling to nd workers in almost every sector of the local economy.
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LAKE HOUSTON HUMBLE KINGWOOD EDITION • JULY 2021
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