Local businesses struggle to fill open positions


Various factors are at play, economist and business owners say

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For the past few months, Barrel Mountain Brewing has had an ad looking for a new cook, but the owner said they haven’t had any serious applicants.

Troy Steigman said he hasn’t seen anything like it before and thinks there are a few reasons.

“I put it towards the unemployment thing. I’m sure there’s all sorts of levels. But the way I hear it, from the words of the mouths of those employees, is they’re missing out on free money if they don’t take advantage of it,” he told KOIN 6 News.

But it’s more than that, he said.

“Just because we think it’s around the unemployment, there’s COVID. Lighten up the restrictions in the restaurant industry instead of hitting us to so hard.”

CBS News reported job growth nationally isn’t growing as quickly as economists expected and unemployment is still above 6%.

An economist who spoke with KOIN 6 News, Scott Bailey, said that while some of the reason people aren’t going to work could be the unemployment benefits, he thinks the driving forces are that moms are at home with their kids and aren’t able to return to work.

“You want the economy to recover, you want kids back in school full time,” said Bailey, an ESD regional economist. “Get vaccinated, wear a mask.”

Another factor, he said, is people weighing the risks of going back to an in-person workplace.

“It’s people who have to be in there in person and it’s lower wage jobs. And it’s disproportionately affected people of color who have also been the most impacted by COVID. So that’s one factor in ‘Should I go back to work?’ Those are also the folks least likely to be vaccinated,” he said.

Raising the minimum wage would help, he added.

Thomas Potiowsky, a senior advisor for Northwest Economic Research Center, agrees those are the factors but he’s not sure which is the most important. But he said he’s seen surveys that show schools/child care and feeling unsafe returning to work are more important than the federal unemployment benefits.

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