Life is not easy for American companies starving for workers this summer

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SANTA CRUZ, Calif. / WASHINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) – Charging runners on the Giant Dipper, California’s oldest roller coaster and the star attraction of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, is not the way that Karl Rice thought would spend his summer.

But Rice, whose family runs the Northern California amusement park, began hiring workers later than usual after it reopened in April, following a year-long shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. So far, it has only managed to muster about half of the roughly 1,900 employees needed to manage the busy summer season.

The 114-year-old amusement park is teeming with patrons reveling in their freedom after the lockdown, and with the biggest crowds of the season still expected for the July 4th Bank Holiday weekend, “that’s sort of it. the world on deck, ”Rice said.

All executives work at attractions or food stalls at least once a week this summer, and Rice, the president of Boardwalk, works two eight-hour shifts a week, typically helping guests get in and out of the room. Dipper, a historic roller coaster. .

As the United States nears its Independence Day celebrations, which the Biden administration hoped to mark the country’s symbolic emergence from the pandemic, the economy has both returned to normal and – as shown Rice’s experience – far from it.

The mask-wearing and social distancing rules of the past 15 months have largely disappeared. The sold-out crowds at Major League Baseball stadiums and restaurant waiting lists are back in fashion.

But there is a kind of speed limit on the economic rebound. The $ 93 million North American box office sales for the 10 best films last weekend were the best showing since Valentine’s Day in 2020, before the pandemic began, according to IMDB, but the revenues weeklies remain roughly half or less of what they were before the crisis.

“Who knew reopening would be as difficult as it was?” Richmond Federal Reserve Chairman Thomas Barkin said on Monday when recounting some of the anomalies in the economy: Theme parks are limiting their hours because they cannot hire enough workers, despite high unemployment ; auto factories are slowing production due to supply shortages at a time of record sales.

On the basis of production alone, the United States has recovered. According to the latest estimate from the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model, the economy is above its pre-pandemic level by $ 19.3 trillion. When it comes to jobs, however, there are still over 7 million left in the hole, with probably many months before something like a full labor market recovery is achieved.

Unusually for a recession, people have money to spend, and from an unusual source: the government. Ongoing unemployment insurance payments, expanding child tax credits and other federal aids are keeping households afloat. It is not known when or if private sector wages will take over when aid ends.

And consumers are spending. Spending on services – the lion’s share of household spending, which accounts for 70% of the economy – has increased, especially in recent weeks. Many restaurants are crowded and owners complain about difficulty in hiring.

But the overall leisure and hospitality industry is still missing 15% of the jobs it held before the pandemic. In contrast, finance jobs have effectively returned to normal at just over 99% of pre-pandemic levels.

With the number of new COVID-19 infections falling in the United States, people are eating out again, with diners seated back to pre-pandemic levels, data from OpenTable shows.

Business is booming at Farley’s, a cafe in San Francisco; Sales are around 70% of pre-pandemic levels, but are expected to increase in July, once co-owners Amy and Chris Hillyard hire enough staff to restore pre-pandemic hours. In their largest operation, Farley’s East in downtown Oakland, sales are only about 40% of pre-pandemic levels.

Chris Hillyard expects a boost next week after Bay Area Rapid Transit employees return to work three days a week at their Oakland headquarters on the corner of Farley’s East, but he expects monthly losses until in the fall, when he hopes more office workers will return.

Air travel to the United States has grown steadily, but is only around 75% of 2019 levels, largely due to the slow rebound in international and business travel. TripActions, a travel management company, said bookings for air and ground transportation as well as hotels had more than quadrupled since the start of 2021, but only reached 60% of their pre-pandemic level. . International business travel is at 18%.

The labor market remains far from normal.

Although there are several million more unemployed than before the pandemic, US businesses are also reporting a record number of job openings. Businesses want workers, and workers are leaving their jobs in droves, presumably to take on more rewarding ones. But net job growth has been slow compared to numbers needed to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Governors of the Republican-led states blamed the sluggishness of the job-worker match on the spiked federal unemployment benefits that they say encourage people to stay at home, and decided to cancel those extra payments.

William Spriggs, professor of economics at Howard University and chief economist of the AFL-CIO task force, suggested a different explanation: Skilled workers in industries that are slow to recover wait to resume their careers and don’t feel not obliged to accept a job that presents itself.

Workers in the entertainment industry, he said, “don’t want to work at McDonald’s,” but are waiting for Broadway shows, live concerts and film production to resume. Analysts who assume that the unemployed can be matched one to one with the jobs that are open right now “are out of step with where the market is.”

At the boardwalk, the pandemic shutdown and lack of notice regarding the reopening has meant seasonal hiring this year started months later than usual. At that time, the competition for workers was fierce because all the local businesses were growing at the same time.

Applicants rose after the park offered a bonus of $ 300 every two weeks for those who logged at least 30 hours per week, said Sabra Reyes, director of human resources at Boardwalk. The limiting factor now, she said, is how quickly she can train and recruit new employees.

“We hired at full speed,” said Reyes, who works the weekly train ride to the caves at the amusement park. “But it was and still is a fight.”

With reporting by Nathan Frandino Editing by Dan Burns and Paul Simao

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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