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'Help Wanted': Are The U.S., Texas Facing A Labor Shortage Post-COVID? What's Keeping People From Reentering The Workforce?

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Downtown San Antonio is empty, on the street level and on the River Walk.
Kathleen Creedon | Texas Public Radio
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As summer approaches, businesses in the hospitality industry are concerned about meeting customers' demands amidst what seems to be a labor shortage.

Many restaurants and fast-food eateries are posting “help wanted” signs and looking for ways to lure workers back or make new hires as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic.

But workers are either not willing or not able to transition back to the labor force.

The latest unemployment report showed fewer jobs created than expected — 260,000 vs. about 1 million — and many employers are having trouble finding workers, especially for lower-paying food service, retail and hospitality jobs.

According to Republicans, unemployment payments and stimulus checks are to blame for the "worker shortage" and slow job growth. They say these benefits deter Americans from seeking or returning to work. Multiple GOP governors have already slashed jobless benefits for people in their states in an attempt to incentivize or force a more robust return to work.

President Biden says these payments are necessary and that workers are not ready to return to their old jobs because of multiple issues including ongoing fear of the coronavirus and a lack of affordable, accessible child care options. But Biden also said those collecting unemployment benefits under the American Rescue Plan must accept "suitable" employment when it’s offered.

Some economists say this is not a labor shortage but an adjustment, that higher wages are needed for a “great reassessment of work in America," and that we need to account for the phenomenon of "reallocation friction," as workers figure out what jobs they want and what skills they need to do them, or even whether they can afford to go back to work at all.

How has the pandemic impacted the U.S. workforce and what can be done to encourage and facilitate a smooth transition for Americans who have yet to go back to work?

What are the biggest challenges facing workers and employers post-pandemic and what are some reasonable solutions?

Is it possible to both revitalize the labor force and improve the status quo for workers and their families?

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*This interview was recorded on Thursday, May 13.