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Despite lower unemployment rate in Kan., staffing struggles continue

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 11:22 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - When looking at the unemployment rate in Kansas, it may appear that a majority of businesses are fully staffed again. However, that’s not the case. Restaurants across Wichita are among those struggling to hire help. Some were even forced to close, and new data suggests this could be a long-term problem for some businesses.

“Help Wanted” signs line the streets outside businesses across Wichita and could be a sign of a workforce revolution.

“It’s unusual. Usually one quits and you have another one, one doesn’t show up and you have extra ones,” said Maurice’s Café owner Therese Srour.

Restaurants continue the struggle to stay fully staffed, even after the unemployment rate dropped to pre-pandemic levels.

“All of us. We all have shortness with waitresses and cooks,” Srour said.

Jeremy Hill with the Economic Development and Business Research Center at Wichita State University is studying current job trends. New data suggests workers in Kansas are shifting from multiple part-time jobs to one full-time job. And more workers than ever are ditching the traditional office space for a remote job.

“There’s been pretty consistent and very persistent data on the percent of households that are doing some kind of telecommunications or remote work,” Hill said. “We’re somewhere around 20 percent.”

The restaurant industry is one of the hardest hit sectors. But some restaurants did recover employees after their minimum wage.

“When you look at salaries and wages in Kansas, one of the things I say is, we don’t have a labor problem, we have a wage problem,” Hill said. “over the last decade, wages in Kansas did not keep up with the national level. We fell behind. We have more pressure now to raise those wages.”

That’s a sign that it might costs businesses more right now to attract and retain new employees.

Recently, one Wichita restaurant, Meddy’s, saw an influx of applications after raising its minimum wage for hosts up to $20 and $25 for bartenders. Hill said restaurants may have to adapt to be able to compete, but in the long run, this could increase costs of dining experiences.

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