Jobs remain unfilled as unemployment benefits outpace wages

Posted April 7, 2021 9:16 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2021 4:44 a.m. EDT

— As restaurants and bars reopen with increased capacity, they face another challenge -- a staffing shortage.

Across the Triangle, places are in hiring mode, but not many people answering the call. Experts say unemployment benefits could be a factor, as those in the hospitality industry might be making more off benefits than working a 40-hour week.

For popular places, like the Raleigh Times in downtown Raleigh, hiring staff has been difficult.

"It's everywhere," said Raleigh Times owner Greg Hatem. "Front of the house, back of the house [and] management in Raleigh and Durham."

Hatem owns nine restaurants across the Triangle with 75 open positions. They’ve been hiring about one or two people a week, including new bartender Lauren Zilinsky.

"During the pandemic, some servers and bartenders did get office jobs and have gone into different fields, so we need people," said Zilinsky.

With a dire need for employees, Paul Friga, a strategy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, said there’s another form of competition.

"In many cases, this is a dilemma for restaurant workers depending upon a week's tips and wages. They could be making more in unemployment than they would be making, especially in a restaurant with decreased capacity," he explained.

Minimum wage across North Carolina is $7.25 an hour, with workers making $290 a week.

With unemployment benefits, people can make up to $650 a week. But people have to prove they're searching for a job to keep the weekly benefits coming.

Friga, whose first job was a dishwasher, said he understands the struggle.

"This is a really challenging time for restaurant owners. Not only is the attendance down and the restrictions really high, [the] costs are high for supplies, and now, they have to deal with employees not coming back to work," he said.

The shortage is even stretching into the fast-food business. Certain McDonald’s locations are offering various incentives, like a $200 sign-on bonus, for all new hires.

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