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COVID Reopening: Pandemic Creates 'Employees Market' As Demand For Workers Exceeds Supply

SAN JOSE (KPIX)-- On the first day of California's post-COVID grand reopening, demand for food service and hospitality workers continues to constrain the ability of restaurants and bars to operate at full capacity.

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's lifting of capacity restrictions and social distancing, signs indicating "Help Wanted", "Now Hiring" and "We're Hiring" have been abundant at restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs across the South Bay.

At Boston Market on Bascom Avenue in Campbell, manager Angelica Delgado says there have not been many applicants, despite multiple large signs advertising employment opportunities. The restaurant typically takes more than a dozen employees to operate, but has been operating with a crew of just seven workers.

"It is hard to hire people. You can interview people but they are not coming back later on," said Delgado.

David Williams, general manager of San Jose Improv, held a job fair in mid-May, in anticipation of the June 15 reopening day announced by Governor Newsom.

"We realized what was happening, and we realized the job market was about to get really tight," said Williams.

The San Jose Improv job fair successfully filled 70 out of 80 open positions. Williams anticipates that all remaining jobs of line cooks, servers, and dishwashers will be filled by the end of the week, and the club will be well positioned for its own reopening June 24.

"I've been in the industry about 25 years, and worked at all the restaurants. And it's a lot easier to find people to work in a comedy club than it is in a restaurant. And you make more money," said Williams.

Robert Chapman Wood, professor of strategic management at San Jose State University, said concerns about contracting COVID-19 on the job, lack of affordable housing, and President Biden's financial stimulus package have kept workers on the sidelines.

"And so everybody's got money in their pocket. And when you think about how the economy works, most people go to work because they don't have money in their pocket," said Wood.

Reliable data regarding current job openings are hard to come by. But according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics, the leisure and hospitality sector led the Silicon Valley region in job growth, adding more than 14,100 jobs from March to April 2021, a gain of 10.4%.

Professor Wood cautioned against waiting too long to re-enter the job market.

"If at some point the Federal Reserve is worried about inflation, and they raise interest rates, that will change things a lot. And the good job market is likely to get not nearly as good anymore. So it's not a bad idea to take advantage of this good job market while it's here," said Wood.

Nanci Klein, Director of the Office of Economic Development for the City of San Jose, said weekly surveys of various business sectors indicate that indeed, problems in hiring employees has increased. Also, as restrictions ease, business owners responded they would be staffing up accordingly.

As for employees' hesitation to return to the workforce, some cited lack of childcare. Others voiced concerns with contracting coronavirus, and then infecting young children or elderly parents at home who are unable to receive the vaccine, according to Klein.

Anecdotally, Klein's office has noticed an uptick in interest of commercial leasing. As tech, financial, and other white collar jobs return to the office, the influx of workers will drive up demand at restaurants, convention space, hotels, bars, and transportation.

"That is a very good sign if that trend continues," said Klein.

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