Business owners are still grappling with staff shortages months after COVID shutdowns

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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – Shortage of staff could become the new normal for some businesses, especially restaurants.

Although Virginia’s unemployment rates are low, you can find openings on almost every corner. Experts believe workers have found ways to make money from home during the pandemic and stuck to them, putting a strain on local businesses.

“If you can find the people, sometimes they show up. Sometimes they don’t,” Trey Owens said.

Owens co-owns three restaurants: JewFro in Shockoe Bottom and the two Soul Taco locations. Before the pandemic, its restaurants were fully staffed, with about 40 employees at the three restaurants. Now it’s down to about 25 workers. He said the pandemic revealed a harsh reality.

“In this industry, people have always been abused to the point where, you know, when the pandemic happened, they just didn’t want to come back,” Owens said.

Burnout and low wages likely drove most workers to find remote work during the COVID shutdowns.

Unemployment numbers, however, look promising at 3% in March and April, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. VEC’s senior economist, Timothy Aylor, said there was a clear explanation for this.

“When the labor force decreases, the number of unemployed increases[s] it looks like the rate is better than it actually is,” Aylor said.

Rising inflation is only fueling Owen’s troubles, but he remains hopeful of a much-needed return to normal.

“What we need to do now is really focus on people who love this industry for what it is but for what it can be and try to grow and change with them,” Owens said.

The National Restaurant Association worries with new jobs the restaurant industry may never go back to how it was before COVID-19.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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