NEW ORLEANS — When Nicholas Oseguera put a help wanted sign in the window of El Paso Mexican Grill in New Orleans, he was serious about the letters “ASAP” that are also on the notice.
“If the interview goes good, I mean, if they want to work that night, if they can work that night, then by all means, come on in,” said Oseguera.
The problem is, not many interviews are happening at the Magazine Street restaurant.
“It kind of just seems like people just don’t want to be servers at the moment,” said Oseguera.
A lagging labor force is an issue across the economy, leading to things like higher prices and internal challenges for businesses.
“Anytime that we have a mismatch between available workers and available jobs, that can create friction in the economy,” said Tulane University associate professor of economics Patrick Button.
Button says that friction could end up hurting businesses as they try to fight off pandemic burdens.
“They’re going to have jobs they can’t fill. That’s going to create difficulties at work,” said Button. “That’s going to put a lot of stress on an already stressed business.
With only three regular servers and one part time, hours of operation at El Paso Mexican Grill are cut back right now. Oseguera may be the manager, but these days he also fills in as bartender, server, and cook.
“We can’t just stop everything because we don’t have workers, we’ve got to keep going. Bills don’t stop, the rent doesn’t stop, and payroll don’t stop,” said Oseguera.
When the restaurant opened during the pandemic last Summer, Oseguera says staffing wasn’t an issue. Between COVID restrictions and Hurricane Ida, Oseguera says there was less money to be made and staff started quitting.
“Restaurants all around here are dealing with it,” said Oseguera.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports the number of people quitting their jobs jumped to 4.3 million in August. That’s the highest on record dating back to December 2000 and makes up about three percent of the workforce. A big portion of the increase is from people who worked in places like bars, restaurants, and retail stores.
“I think it’s a big shift in how we think of work,” said Button.
Button says pandemic impacts like childcare, senior care, and virtual learning are big reasons for that shift. Since a nine to five work mentality is being eroded away, Button says job vacancies are increasing across the country.
“That means that some people are leaving their jobs to find other jobs, some people are leaving the workforce entirely, some people are negotiating with their employers to have more flexibility,” said Button.
Button says workplace flexibility and better benefits are driving forces as potential workers seek out those new jobs. He says many aren’t rushing to the next opportunity, instead of waiting for the right on.
“They’re able to take positions that offer higher wages, better benefits, or in most cases, they’re looking for work that’s more fulfilling,” said Button.
“I haven’t seen this in the industry before where they’re in demand way more than the supply is,” said president and chief operating officer of NOLA Pizza Company Dylan Linter.
Workers are one of the main ingredients needed At NOLA Pizza Company and its adjoining business, NOLA Brewing Company.
“You go on to the job boards and you see 30 or 40 positions every single week, everywhere, from pizza places like ours to five-star restaurants,” said Lintern.
Lintern says some workers had to be furloughed during the pandemic. Most have been hired back, but not all of them.
“Some of them moved on to other careers and other focuses,” said Lintern.
Lintern says business hasn’t been impacted too much just yet, but with plans to expand, getting staff on board could create some challenges.
“The big concern would be where we can’t fully staff the operation we want to run,” said Lintern.
Back at El Paso Mexican Grill, it’s the same concern as customers start to fill up tables again. Oseguera hopes to get back to regular business hours with enough employees to work them.
“We’re just doing the best we can to keep this place running and if anybody wants a job we’re hiring,” said Oseguera.
Filling those positions though could take a little longer than expected.
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