LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As Arkansas begins to slowly reopen and get back to business, some things that aren’t returning in full force are workers.
Local businesses have been seeing a decline in new applicants, with restaurants and the food industry being the hardest hit.
There are a variety of reasons unemployed workers could be choosing to hold back, with safety still a concern as well as the appeal of boosted unemployment benefits.
For many restaurants in Little Rock, they’re so short-staffed they’re willing to hire practically anyone who walks through the door.
Soul Fish Cafe has been serving up fried fish with flare for nearly 5 years, surviving the pandemic by adjusting to the changes.
The business profited from curbside pickup and take-out options during quarantine and is looking forward to reopening at 100% capacity.
“Opening back up was a whole new learning curve for everybody,” said general manager Jeffery Williams. But although customers are flocking back to restaurants after months stuck inside, something businesses haven’t been able to net are new hires.
“I joke and I tell people that the pandemic ate servers,” Williams said. For him and other restaurants around the state, the applicant pool for servers, line cooks and staff is all but dried up.
He says for every 7 resumes he receives only one will show up to the interview, making the hunt for committed employees a challenge. At this point, his current staff is stretched thin. “They’re working a lot more hours,” Williams said. “My employees that are here are tired.”
Across town, Blake Clayton with Corky’s Ribs and BBQ is feeling the same strain.
“We’ve really had trouble getting people in the door,” Clayton said. Both Clayton and Williams believe the main reason behind the lack of employees involves unemployment benefits, with many workers choosing to cash checks from the state and federal government rather than return to work.
“You know, we’ll ask them if they want to come back to work and they’re like, ‘well, can you do better than what the government is paying me to stay home right now?'” said Clayton.
He now must throw his hat in the ring and get to work to make ends meet – we caught him over the phone while he was preparing bulk orders.
“I think last week I worked almost 70 hours,” Clayton explained, with Williams taking a similar stance by helping to seat and serve customers. He admits that he’s looking for anyone, saying, “I mean, if 5 servers walked in right now, I’d hire them.”
According to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, there were over 61,000 unemployed Arkansans in February of this year, the latest data to be released.
Restaurants aren’t the only ones seeing a freeze – businesses across the state are upping hiring efforts now that vaccines are widely available and are looking for employees.
For those looking for a job, both restaurants say to just stop on by to learn more. Additional employment resources can be found HERE.