Back to work? This is the question of the month | Editorials

The labor market upheaval of the past 18 months takes an interesting turn as federal unemployment benefits linked to the pandemic expire this month – just around Labor Day, no less.

For New Mexico restaurants, still struggling due to a labor shortage, the latest move is a New Mexico Restaurant Association ad campaign called “Hungry for Success.”

Due to the labor shortage, many restaurants in New Mexico are closing on Mondays and Tuesdays. On days when businesses are open, the employees still on the job are in tatters. Bosses pay overtime just to keep restaurants four or five days a week.

“Hungry for Success” is a pitch for bringing back those who left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic – and also for finding new people who can eat both as a starting point and as a career choice.

The campaign is scheduled to strike around September 6, when federal government pandemic unemployment benefits end. The $ 300 per week supplement to state unemployment benefits expires. Employers hope workers will return to work soon after.

However, experience in other states shows that the end of federal benefits has not always caused people to return to the workplace. Twenty-six states have already ended federal pandemic-era benefits, a move many announced in May and implemented in June and July.

A study by payroll and time management company UKG found states that retained benefits increased working hours by 4.1%, compared to 2.2% in states where benefits ended earlier. Another company, Homebase, found that employment rose 2.3% in states with intact benefits and only 0.9% in states that cut them.

Analysts say this is preliminary data. It will take several more months to determine what federal pandemic benefits have done to the job market. However, it is clear that other factors are weighing on people’s return to work.

On the one hand, many people did not have childcare services. Some workers took early retirement. Others have simply changed careers. They will not return to the service sector. Unfortunately, some cannot go back because they were victims of the pandemic. The theory that people wouldn’t work as long as they had “free” money turns out to be more complicated in the real world.

A campaign is one way to raise awareness that restaurant jobs can be attractive. After all, they offer flexible hours, camaraderie with co-workers, the satisfaction of serving people, and the opportunity to earn tips. Many restaurants pay more money – for chefs, kitchen staff and, yes, even waiters.

This is similar to the approach taken by Presbyterian Healthcare Services. The company said Monday it will pay a minimum hourly wage of $ 15 statewide, $ 19 in Santa Fe, hourly because of the cost of living here.

Such wages are probably not possible for many small businesses, including restaurants, although many have increased their wages. Still, it’s a buyer’s market and employers – even mom-and-pop operations – will likely have to respond. Not only to their customers, but also to their employees.

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