Businesses are struggling to hire workers — and say Uncle Sam is to blame

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Workers are hard to find despite the vaccination rollout and a stubbornly high unemployment rate — and business owners say Uncle Sam is to blame.

Just this past Monday, Sean Macari, owner of a job recruitment company in Albany, offered a 25-year-old woman who hasn’t worked in 12 months a job as a recruiter making $47,000 a year, plus health insurance and commissions.

The next day, the applicant made a counteroffer for 17 percent more, or $55,000.

“I thought we could meet in the middle,” Macari, chief executive of Valiant Search told The Post. But the applicant, like two others who turned down the same job the week prior, walked away when her counteroffer wasn’t fully met.

Macari is among a growing number of employers grappling with a perversely tight labor market as the economy heats up — despite an unemployment rate of 6 percent.  It has many employers convinced that they’re unfairly competing against federal stimulus benefits that, combined with regular unemployment checks, stand to pay workers as much or even more than they might get from a job.

Fazoli’s, an Italian restaurant chain in the Midwest, says it’s having a hard time enticing workers.
Fazoli’s

In New York City, where the minimum wage is $15 an hour, residents can now earn up to $804 a week on unemployment, or the equivalent of $20 an hour for a 40-hour work week. That’s because the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation offers $300 a week on top of the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $504.

“It’s the hardest that it’s ever been to hire people now,” said Steven Sloan, a co-owner of Morton Williams supermarket chain in Manhattan. Sloan said he’s had a tough time filling even the most coveted of jobs, including a $30 an hour meat manager position that typically “has people lining up to apply.”

Increasingly generous pandemic stimulus checks are only adding to the problem, business owners say. In doling out the latest round of stimulus checks, the federal government more than doubled the amount each dependent could qualify for to $1,400 even as it broadened the definition of dependent to include both children and adults of any age.

The end result: A typical family of four snagged $5,600 in a single shot.

Andrew Schnipper (left, pictured with co-owner John Schnipper, outside their Times Square location) predicts wages will have to rise above the minimum to keep workers.
Andrew Schnipper (left, pictured with co-owner John Schnipper, outside their Times Square location) predicts wages will have to rise above the minimum to keep workers.
Tamara Beckwith

Ironically, the latest round of stimulus checks has also helped fuel the demand for labor as it’s given consumers more money to spend on goods and services.

“In the last month or so there has been an increase in the number of jobs we need to fill and it happened around the same time the stimulus checks started,” Sloan said.

Other states are also feeling the squeeze.

Italian restaurant chain Fazoli’s, which operates 56 of its 200 restaurants mostly in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, has hiked wages by six to eight percent compared to a year ago in an attempt to attract workers.

But even with the increase, Fazoli’s hourly workers only earn between $9.75 to $15 an hour compared with the roughly $11 to $18.55 an hour they might qualify for collecting unemployment in Ohio.

The Lexington, Ky-based company held a massive job fair this week to attract 300 employees at its 56 eateries.

Fazoli's CEO Carl Howard
Fazoli’s CEO Carl Howard
Fazoli’s

“We hired 63 people,” chief executive Carl Howard told The Post. “That’s not bad but not great either and I don’t think we’ll be fully staffed until September,” when the extra $300 unemployment checks under the federal program ends.

Of course, some industries have been struggling with a labor shortage for some time. There were about one million more job openings than people looking for work in the pre-pandemic economy. Demand was particularly dour for low wage jobs with just  13 percent of quick service restaurants saying they were fully staffed before the pandemic hit, according to restaurant consultancy Black Box Intelligence.

“It might be true for some people that they are not working because they are making more money off of unemployment,” explained Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride. “But employers who are struggling to hire is a familiar circumstance.”

But it’s not just minimum wage jobs that are being shrugged off in the post-pandemic world, even as vaccinations give more people confidence to venture out again. Salaried office workers are also becoming hard to find, particularly for jobs earning less than $50,000 a year, sources said.

The Tully Rinckey law firm of Albany has five open positions for executive assistants, billing clerks and other support jobs paying anywhere from the low $40,000 range to just over $50,000, according to partner Mathew Tully.

Before the pandemic, these jobs would have been filled in under two weeks, Tully told The Post. The executive assistant job, which is being advertised for $45,000, has been unfilled going on six weeks.

Valiant Search CEO Sean Macari
Valiant Search CEO Sean Macari
Valiant Search

Added Macari of Valiant, which fills jobs for the legal industry, including attorneys and support staff: “The number of people responding to ads is staggeringly low and some people who apply don’t even return my calls.” Macari speculated that some applicants may be simply trying to show the Department of Labor that they are actively looking for and applying for jobs in order to maintain their benefits.

Some employers are raising wages and benefits to attract workers. As The Post reported last week, Taco Bell is now giving general managers at its company-owned eateries four weeks of annual vacation, eight weeks of paid maternity leave and four weeks of new parent and guardian “baby bonding” in its effort to attract talent.

Others are raising wages, including Starbucks and Olive Garden.

“We had at least two employees come to us and question the pay they are getting,” said Andrew Schnipper, who owns two eponymous burger joints in Midtown. “They know the job market is very tight.”

“We won’t be able to pay the $15 minimum wage anymore,” the restaurateur said. “Wages in New York City will probably be more like $17 or $18 an hour,” which is still below the $20 an hour many are getting from unemployment.

In addition to raising wages, Fazoli’s Howard has also instructed his managers to “hire anyone who has a good smile and attitude on the spot, because if we don’t they’ll get a job the same day with one of our competitors.”

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