Bay Edition - August 2021

UNDERSTANDING UNEMPLOYMENT Unemployment in the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area peaked in April 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions began to take effect. Despite restrictions being lifted, unemployment still hovers around 7.4% in the area and 6.5% statewide.

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job demand among all industries in February. About 20,573 food industry jobs in the region, including servers, food preparation workers and various positions in fast-food chains, were unfilled at the time. The restaurant industry is struggling to stay afloat amid the high volume of customers now coming in, business owners said. Some restaurants have begun offer- ing incentives, such as hiring bonuses or rate increases after a probation period, to entice potential employ- ees to apply. Even these strategies are not working, said Lauren Perez, the owner of Mobile Mixology, a business that provides bartenders for catering or events in the Bay Area. “Before the pandemic, servers and bartenders came a dime a dozen, honestly,” Perez said. “After COVID, we were lucky if we got a handful of applicants, and we were lucky if any of them showed up to the interview. It’s been a doozy.” Unemployment factors Due to a booming number of job openings,Gov.GregAbbott announced to the U.S. Department of Labor on May 17 that Texas would be opting out of federal unemployment compensa- tion related to the COVID-19 pandemic effective June 26, which included the expiration of a $300 weekly supple- mental benefit. In May, the number of Texas job openings almost equaled the num- ber of Texans on unemployment, and about 60% more jobs were open at the time than there were just before the pandemic. As of late August, there were over 888,000 job openings across Texas, according to WorkInTexas. Additionally, Abbott’s decision was also influenced by the fact that according to the governor’s office, about 18% of filed unemployment benefits were found to be fraudulent. However, Jonathan Lewis, senior policy analyst with Every Texan, said taking away unemployment only harms thosewho relyon it. EveryTexan specializes in strengthening public pol- icy to give Texans equitable access to health care, education and jobs. “I think it’s kind of a short-sighted strategy tocut offthese resourceswhen people have that money coming into their pockets,” Lewis said. “They’re then able to continue to buy the goods and services that support businesses, and so you know, it’s kind of like shoot- ing yourself in the foot if you’re going

2020 saw the highest number of unemployed individuals in the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land area in the last decade. UNEMPLOYMENT ACROSS THE DECADE

MINIMUMWAGE OVER TIME

Of the 10 largest states in the U.S., Texas is among the four that have not increased its minimum wage since 2010. MINIMUM WAGE 2010 CHANGE 2021 CALIFORNIA $8 +75% $14 FLORIDA $7.25 +19% $8.65 GEORGIA $7.25 - $7.25 ILLINOIS $8.25 +33.3% $11 MICHIGAN $7.40 +30.4% $9.65 NEW YORK $7.25 +72.4% $12.50 NORTH CAROLINA $7.25 - $7.25 OHIO $7.30 +20.5% $8.80 PENNSYLVANIA $7.25 - $7.25 TEXAS $7.25 - $7.25

125.3% increase from 2019 to 2020

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As of Aug. 23, state data shows 888,142 job openings in Texas.

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SOURCES: TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION, U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS, LABOR LAW CENTER/COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

Local business reactions Area business owners saidCOVID-19 has affected people’s work ethic and expected compensation, resulting in people who would rather not work than get a job. Colton Trout owns Paradise Trop- ical Wines in Kemah and is also a business coach for area business owners. One local boutique owner he coaches hired a few employees in recent months and quickly fired them because they would regularly not show up for work, Trout said. “A lot of people are having diffi- culty one, finding people to apply, and then two, finding people that are good quality and want to work,” he said. “Because everybody’s on unem- ployment, everybody’s not wanting to work in general.” Trout said he is lucky to have the quality bartenders he employs, but he is also struggling to find adequate workers. Trout said he saw the prob- lem coming. “When the government is willing to give you free money, … then ... I wouldn’t want to work,” he said. Manish Maheshwari owns Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee in League City. Over the summer, he closed

Little Bella Mia, another restaurant he owns, partly due to the workforce shortage. Maheshwari said many “lit- tle guys” such as himself are suffering, with some restaurant owners having to practically live at their restaurants to keep them functioning. “It’s been a disaster,” he said. Gina Kuper is in charge of human resources for her family-owned Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant in Webster. Before COVID-19, the restau- rant employed 18 to 20 servers, but 10 to 12 are working now, she said. “People don’t have the desire to work like we used to,” she said. The restaurant may soon limit its menu or increase prices to help offset the restaurant not having the help it needs to run efficiently, Kuper said. Jimmy Ritz owns Angelo’s Pizza and Pasta in Webster. He said it has been difficult to find help since January, though the restaurant was able to hire several 16-year-olds over the summer. “They are available because they do not qualify for unemployment because it is their first job,” he said in a written statement. “However, they are now going back to school, so we are likely going to have a tough time unless we can get more hires.”

to cut off these federal benefits while people are still trying to find employ- ment that is suitable for them.” Another issue with returning to the workforce for some unemployed workers is salaries not meeting the needs of workers to afford basic things, such as child care. The average Harris County fam- ily of four needs to bring in $6,084 monthly and the average Galveston County family of four needs $6,303 monthly to afford housing, food, transportation, health care and other necessities, according to the Eco- nomic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit that considers the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. “Wages really benefit society as a whole, so seeing workers be able to kind of negotiate wages up is a really good thing for everybody,” Lewis said. The state’s minimum wage has remained $7.25 for more than 10 years, while the national average has increased to $9.21, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “I think it’s really important to think about who is being impacted by these cuts, and it’s really our most vulnerable Texans,” Lewis said.

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COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER • COMMUNITYIMPACT.COM

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