Worker shortage expected to end with expiration of federal pandemic UI programs

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — In six weeks, all the federal pandemic unemployment programs will expire. Many hope that will signal the end of the worker shortage.

Businesses are in dire need of workers. They need everything from hotel receptionists and retail cashiers to restaurant cooks and servers. Many see the end of the unemployment plus-up as a light at the end of the tunnel, hoping it will push people to come back to work.

You see it everywhere. Businesses looking to hire, but Retail Merchants of Hawaii president Tina Yamaki said it hasn’t been easy to find workers.

“We’ve been having a lot of challenges getting, especially, frontline employees to come in and apply for these jobs,” Yamaki explained.

“We are still in dire need of employees in the restaurant industry,” said Hawaii Restaurant Association Chair Greg Maples. “Everywhere from the restaurant manager all the way down to dishwashers.”

The visitor industry is also struggling to fill positions since tourism bounced back much faster than expected.

Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association Mufi Hannemann said “It’s a good challenge to be in right now to actually be operating it. And knowing that you can employ people, and you want to because July and August are going to be blockbuster months for us.”

As of May 30, people receiving benefits, once again, have to prove they’re looking for work.

Doraku Waikiki Manager Kazuma Kitajima said that’s helped a little.

“Now that, that’s a mandatory requirement, I think people are actually looking for jobs,” Kitajima said. “They’re coming back to employment. But I don’t think it’s enough.”

But some are only applying to fill the requirement.

“What we found out is people are not showing up for the interviews,” Yamaki said. “Or they’re applying for jobs that they’re not qualified for.”

One of the biggest factors in the worker shortage is the extra cash doled out through the federal pandemic unemployment programs.

“I think it’s contributed a lot to our worker shortage,” Maples said. “Because, quite honestly, there’s people who are making more staying at home than they would if they went to work.”

But those programs end Sept. 4.

“I think with the 300 plus-up, a lot of people aren’t really coming to work,” Kitajima said. “Or they don’t want to find jobs because they’re getting that extra benefit. But now with that going away, I think a lot of people will be forced to go back to work.”

Yamaki said the best time to look for a job is now. Don’t wait until the benefits run out, and you’re forced to go back to work. You may not have as many choices.

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