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Restaurant Owners Hopeful, But Don't Expect Quick End To Worker Shortages With Federal Unemployment Benefit Programs Over

CHICAGO (CBS) -- This Labor Day, many industries are hoping people come back to work - with extra federal unemployment benefits officially having expired Saturday.

CBS 2's Tara Molina was told Monday that while business owners in particular are hopeful, those still facing worker shortages may not see the impact of the expiration right away - especially restaurants.

There is no stack of applications or lineup of people waiting to get jobs in restaurants yet. For the time being, many still can't operate full hours or capacity because they just don't have the workers to do it.

It was quiet in River North this Labor Day. Moe's Cantina and Old Crow Smokehouse on Kinzie Street were closed.

The reason is that anyone who would be working in the restaurants has moved over to their Wrigleyville locations, so that the Old Crow Smokehouse location at 3506 N. Clark St. can be open at full capacity for the Cubs game.

"We're not able to open seven days a week," said restaurant group owner Sam Sanchez.

They can't be open seven days a week at any of their restaurants – no lunch service, no happy hour.

"The back of the house is lacking," Sanchez said. "We don't have the staff."

And while Sanchez wishes the shortage and staffing back and forth would end, he said, "Amazon took a lot of our employees; service drivers took a lot of our employees; construction."

Sanchez said the end of federal unemployment extras, extensions, and programs won't be the saving grace the restaurant industry hoped it would be – at least not yet.

"The end of unemployment is not going to be the magic wand that brings people back," he said.

This past Saturday, all federal unemployment programs expired - meaning no more benefits for gig workers or the self-employed, no extra weeks of benefits for those who exhausted their regular eligibility, and no more extra weekly money from the feds.

In our close coverage of pandemic-related labor shortages – which are really hitting those businesses trying to fully reopen - many blamed those programs.

"The unemployment checks and the stimulus checks are keeping people at home," said Steve Hartenstein of the Stefani Restaurant Group.

So we reached out to the Illinois Hotel and Restaurant Associations, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Chicago Public Schools - the latter two of which have postal worker and bus driver positions still unfilled, respectively - to see if they expect an impact now that federal benefits have ended.

There have been no answers to that question from them yet.

But Sanchez, who also sits on the board of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said: "We wish. We want people to come back to work. The benefits are there. Higher pay. Great money."

Why is there no rush back to work? Experts say continued concerns about childcare, variants of the coronavirus, and a very competitive job market are some of the main reasons we could see continued shortages for the time being.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has provided this information on the benefit program expirations.

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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