Some companies seem determined to wait it out. Wages have risen, but many employers seem reluctant to make other changes to attract workers, such as flexible hours and better benefits. In part, this may be due to the fact that, despite all their complaints about labor shortages, many companies find they can get by with fewer employees, in some cases asking customers to agree to longer wait times or reduced service.
“They’re making big profits in part because they’re saving on labor costs, and the question is how long that can last,” said Julia Pollack, chief economist at job site ZipRecruiter. In the end, she says, customers can get tired of loading their own tables or sit waiting for hours, and employers can be forced to give in to workers’ demands.
Some businesses are already changing the way they operate. When Carter Louis opened his last restaurant this year, he abandoned the industry standard approach to recruiting, where kitchen workers were paid low wages and waiters relied on tips. At his Soul Slice pizzeria in Oakland, California, everyone works full-time, gets paid rather than hourly, and gets health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid leave. Hiring is still tricky, he said, but he doesn’t have staff issues reported by other restaurants.
Restaurant owners wondering why they can’t find workers, Mr. Louis said, should take a look at how they treated workers before the pandemic, as well as during the industry laid off millions.
“The restaurant industry really didn’t have the back of its people,” he said.
However, raising wages and benefits alone will not bring back everyone who has left the labor market. The sharpest declines in labor force participation have occurred among older workers, who are most at risk of contracting the virus. Some may return to work as their health improves, while others have simply retired.
And even those far from retirement make ends meet outside of traditional work.
When 30-year-old Danielle Miss lost her job at a travel agency in Philadelphia at the start of the pandemic, it was in some ways a blessing. Some time away from home made her realize how bad the job was for her mental health and finances – her bank balance was negative on the day she was fired. Thanks to federal unemployment benefits that provide more than she earned at work, she has achieved a certain degree of financial stability, she said.
Ms. Miss’s unemployment benefit ended in September, but she is not looking for another job in the office. Instead, she makes a living from a variety of performances. She is trying to build a business as an independent travel agent and is also involved in sitting at home, sitting with dogs and selling clothes online. She estimates she makes slightly more than the roughly $ 36,000 a year she earned before the pandemic, and while she works the same number of hours as before, she is flexible.