Why Are Some NYC Restaurants Struggling to Find Workers? It’s Complicated…


In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Samantha DiStefano closes her Mama Fox restaurant and bar for Sunday dinner and all of Monday because she can’t hire enough workers to cover those shifts.

It’s a similar story in Red Hook, where Susan Povich doesn’t put out all the tables she is allowed at her Lobster Pound restaurant, even as the economy reopens, because she can’t hire enough staff, including servers who could make $2,000 a week.

In Sunset Park, Pat Whelan’s Sahadi’s wholesale food business is short five workers as he finds his business growing as New York-area restaurants expand capacity.

Of 200 businesses recently surveyed by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, two-thirds say they can’t hire enough workers — in a borough with an unemployment rate of 15%. And 40% of the business owners believe the reason is the unprecedented unemployment benefits available under the Biden federal aid bill, which amount to as much as $804 a week in New York.

“Why work when you can get paid to stay home?” said Whelan.

But any worker shortage is a lot more complicated than just boosted government benefits, economists say. Reasons range from already expensive child care becoming more fraught amid remote learning to service industry workers being driven away by low wages and instability underscored by the pandemic.

That hasn’t stopped at least 14 states led by Republican governors from moving in the last week to end the enhanced unemployment benefits — especially the additional $300 a week, included in the $1.7 trillion Biden aid package.

It seems unlikely New York would take a similar step. But if small businesses can’t hire enough workers, it could snag the city’s economic recovery as New York starts to come back to life with more people getting vaccinated and COVID-19 infection rates declining.

New York City’s 11.2% unemployment rate is the highest of any of the largest cities in the country. Unless more people return to work, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent optimistic projection that lifting restrictions will result in the city regaining half a million jobs this year won’t be possible.

Job postings on Indeed.com for the New York area exceeded those from early 2020 for the first time late last month.


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