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Randall Hubin’s plans for last weekend involved covering shifts he couldn’t fill at his restaurants.

On Saturday, the co-owner of the Andover and Champlin Pizza Ranch locations was scheduled to work in store, and on Sunday he planned to deliver pizzas, because he didn’t have enough drivers available.

Earlier this year, Hubin and his wife delayed opening the Champlin Pizza Ranch because they couldn’t hire enough staff, but like many business owners, they hoped the situation would improve once the enhanced unemployment benefits from the federal government ended Sept. 4.

About a month and a half after the extra benefits expired, hiring isn’t any easier. In fact, the Hubins decided to close the Andover location on Mondays so as not to burn out their staff, which thinned as younger employees went back to school.

“I did think I would see more people coming off the sidelines,” Randall Hubin said.

He’s not alone.

Kim Stone, owner and manager of the 201 Tavern in Anoka, also said the situation hasn’t improved as she’d hoped it would. In September she started seeing some applications for bartenders and servers and hired about four people in the last month. But she still can’t attract kitchen staff, where her real shortage lies.

“We’ve suffered so long [in the restaurant industry], putting a shortage on a table, it just breaks your heart,” she said.

“It most definitely has not gotten better,” MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce President Lori Higgins said. “Restaurants are still suffering the same issues in terms of a shortage of labor. You see indications of that everywhere you go. You see signs on the doors. You see reduced hours. You see people asking for patience.”

The question businesses are asking is why — but it’s hard to know for sure, and it’s likely a combination of factors.

“They’re scratching their heads,” Pete Turok, president of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce said.

Some business owners he’s talked to believe it’s just too soon to see the impact of the enhanced unemployment benefits disappearing. It hasn’t been that long since the final checks went out, and some people may be living off the money they saved up.

Jeanne Boeh, an economics professor at Augsburg University, said in an email that even with enhanced unemployment benefits ending, other payments, such as the child tax credit and federal COVID-19 aid programs, mean households have had other resources not obtained via employment income. Families appear to have saved some of this money, she said, citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that shows the personal saving rate dramatically increased in 2020 and 2021.

“This may mean that they can afford to be out of the workforce while they seek less stressful and personal contact positions,” she said.

Boeh also pointed out that women were overrepresented in the service industries — such as restaurants, nursing homes and hotels, which are all having difficulty hiring — and that child care expenses have increased and K-12 schools haven’t had a stable schedule.

With the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus circulating, Turok said there’s probably also a slice of the workforce that is simply not comfortable returning to work yet.

Higgins said some people in the industry went into new lines of work after finding themselves jobless last year.

The so-called labor shortage is also driving up the price of labor. Stone is now paying kitchen staff $15 to $20 an hour.

“There’s so many jobs that they can go and get a job anywhere,” Stone said. “They want top dollar now, and people are paying it to get them in.”

Most of the jobs at Pizza Ranch pay $13 to $16 an hour, Hubin said, but people still want more.

“There’s definitely a widespread perception that people are worth more than whatever I offer,” Hubin said. He added that some prospective employees probably could go get another job with higher pay — but others seem to overestimate what they can earn without solid experience.

“It’s all these factors that have led us to where we’re at, and where we’re at is it’s tough,” Turok said. “It’s a tough time for businesses to get employees in the door.”

On top of that, many restaurants are facing supply chain issues and rising food prices, Higgins said.

“That is also contributing to the stress they are experiencing,” she said.

That doesn’t mean restaurant owners are giving up.

Hubin said he’s at least cash-flow positive this year, unlike last year, and he’s still trying to make a positive difference in the world.

“I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of guy,” he said.

 

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