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From Hotels To Retailers, Staffing Shortage Crisis Persists In Chicago -- And It's Affecting Customers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Our bars and restaurants aren't the only ones impacted by a continued worker shortage - other businesses across Chicago are taking a hit that is already affecting customers.

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported, businesses from hotels to retailers and beyond have felt the pinch. They are finally back after a rough year and a half, but with this worker shortage, many reported they are capping occupancy rates - and still can't open at full capacity - because they just don't have to people to do it.

They're not alone.

You're likely to have run into businesses with shorter hours and higher prices, and that are closed more days of the week.

"So it has a variety of repercussions," said Rob Karr, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Those are just a few of the changes you may have already noticed, or will notice, because of the worker shortage.

"We just hear that it's a problem across the board," Karr said.

"Fifty percent of our members nationwide cannot fill certain job openings that they have," said Mark Grant, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Those are continued openings, and a continued shortage, we're told, is affecting the big and little guys here in Chicago. Business leaders said retailers across the area have already been forced to make changes.

"If you can't be open as many hours as you want? That will cut into your profitability," Grant said.

It amounts to just another part of a bigger hit to the bottom line.

"We're not seeing, you know, two and a half to 3 million people a day traversing downtown," Karr said. "You know, tourism levels are nowhere close to what they were prior to the pandemic."

It is also taking major bite out of an industry already pummeled by the pandemic - hotels.

"It's been devastating," said Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.

Jacobson said the staffing challenges have been seen across the board for hotels, and some have had to limit business as a result.

Jacobson said despite new incentives and full benefit packages, hotels are still struggling across the state.

"We had about one third of our workforce - more than 20,000 hotel workers - out of work," he said.

He said many found other jobs, and now some area hotels that are seeing big demand again just can't accommodate it.

"We are still facing staffing challenges both in front-line, hourly positions as well as management positions," he said. "It has resulted in some hotels reporting they have to limit room sales some nights, because they do not have enough staff to accommodate 100 percent occupancy."

Jacobson said the association has hosted hiring events – and noted that one can build a career in the hotel industry.

"We have hosted several hiring events in recent months and have an ongoing effort to educate job seekers that a career in a hotel has great benefits and opportunity for growth," he said. "It's not just a dead-end job."

He also said hotels have not been a major source of COVID-19 spread since the summer and have been doing the utmost to protect workers.

"One important thing to note is that of all of the outbreaks reported statewide by IDPH, since July 1 when the state fully reopened, only two were reported from hotels," Jacobson said. "So beyond the vaccination efforts, the additional steps that hotels have taken to protect workers and guests are obviously proving to be successful in keeping everyone safe. There are 39 other categories/types of venues and workplaces that have had a higher amount of outbreaks than hotels."

Meanwhile, Molina asked Karr if he could envision any timeline for when the worker shortage would end and things would return to normal.

"I could make a lot of money, Tara, if I knew the answer to that question," Karr replied.

The vaccination requirements are also at play here, as nationally, we're told there's been a hesitancy to apply for jobs that will require vaccination.

In Chicago, a lot of businesses are still interpreting the vaccine mandate to see how it will play out.

Jacobson said many member hotel companies are working to prepare for the COVID-19 vaccination mandate announced by President Joe Biden – with some offering cash incentives for employees to get vaccinated, and some bringing vaccine clinics to hotels.

Ultimately, businesses are in a Catch022, as they want to make up for losses from the past eighteen months, but they don't have the people to run at full capacity - especially heading into the holiday season.

The concern we heard Thursday is that people won't want to deal with the changes in hours and customer service, so they'll just turn to online retail - something that could kill the small businesses that have taken the biggest hits.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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