JoJo’s Restaurant and Taphouse in downtown Frederick were open for lunch and dinner every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now manager Dennis McKinney said the restaurant was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. And Wednesday through Friday it’s only open for dinner.
Like companies in Frederick County, JoJo’s is facing a staff shortage.
“It’s everywhere,” said Rick Weldon, president of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. “And that in every sector.”
American employers created just 235,000 jobs in August, according to a federal report released on Friday. It was a surprisingly poor profit after two months of robust hires, and was the clearest sign yet that the proliferation of the Delta variant has kept some people away from flying, shopping, and eating.
“The Delta variant has taken a bigger toll on the job market than many of us hoped,” Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo, told The Associated Press. “It will take longer for workers to return to the labor market than we expected.”
According to the job report, attitudes were weakest in sectors of the economy that require face-to-face contact with the public – restaurants, hotels and retailers.
Javaughn Burnett is an employee at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Frederick. He’s been working there since January, but in the last month or so he said he started doing occasional shifts at other Marriott properties in the area that were struggling with a labor shortage.
Sometimes he works on a breakfast shift at the nearby Residence Inn. Other days he works night shifts at the TownePlace Suites or the Courtyard.
“It’s just about not having enough people to fill those spots or having too many outings in a week,” said Burnett.
A few months ago, many economists expected that a subsiding pandemic would encourage more people to start looking for a job again. The worries of getting sick at work would go away, they hoped. And with schools reopening, more parents, especially women, would return to work.
So far this has not happened. But the demand for labor remains strong. The job board website Indeed says the number of vacancies increased in August. And the National Federation for Independent Business said their polls show that half of small businesses have jobs they can’t fill.
In a desperate step, more and more companies are loosening restrictions on everything from age to experience level. The drugstore chain CVS announced at the beginning of August that it would no longer need a minimum school diploma to fill entry-level positions in its branches. This year it also plans to end its 3.0 GPA requirement for college recruiting. Amazon has stopped testing job seekers for marijuana.
At the Dollar Tree in Walkersville, store manager Donnell Reese said he was in dire need of cashiers, managers and help unloading trucks.
“It’s really killing us,” Reese said.
Reese believes the drought is because “the government is allowing people to stay home and get paid.” Miles away in Thurmont, Bob Black thought the same thing.
Black, the owner of Catoctin Mountain Orchard, said its workers were struggling to package products in time for retail. He also blamed state unemployment programs for this.
“They gave away too much free money,” he said. “And it affects everyone.”
When hiring numbers failed to impress earlier this year, dozen of Republican governors – including Maryland’s Larry Hogan – cut their states’ pandemic unemployment benefits, arguing that it was a deterrent for workers to get back into the job market.
But states that cut these benefits have seen no higher hiring numbers than those that have continued to mail checks, research shows. A Wall Street Journal analysis published Wednesday found “roughly similar job growth” in states that have maintained increased federal benefits compared to those that ended early.
A July analysis by payroll clerk Homebase found employment increased in states that have maintained unemployment benefits and declined in states that are cutting them. In June, Indeed’s Hiring Lab found job searches were below April’s baseline in states where benefits are expiring.
Meanwhile, a census poll conducted in late March showed that 6.3 million people were not looking for work because they had to look after a child, and 4.1 million said they feared contracting the virus or spreading it.
“It was very difficult,” said Kaitlyn Kenny, shift manager at Ace Hardware in Braunschweig.
For several months now, the store has been short of cashiers and salespeople, she said. Many of the applications the store receives are from high school students who can’t work more than two hours a day, she said.
“There’s a lot more stress on everyone,” said Kenny, “because we’re trying to make it work with what we have.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.