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Boise restaurant owners struggle to fill job openings

One restaurant owner blames unemployment insurance for the difficulties, but an Idaho Department of Labor economist says benefits do not provide a living wage.

BOISE, Idaho — “Help Wanted” signs continue to pop up on storefronts throughout Idaho, and a Boise restaurant manager blames it on unemployment insurance.

“I mean it's a pretty easy life just sitting there and collecting money,” said Brayden Torrey, manager at Moon’s Kitchen Café in Boise. “Even if we were offering them more, they still make the same that we were offering them, and why work 40 hours when you can just get it right now and send in applications and never show up?"

Jan Roeser, an economist for the Idaho Department of Labor, said unemployment benefits do not supply enough cash for someone to live on and most of the money recipients get would go towards housing.

"You still have food, utilities, transportation,” she said. "You're just not going to find that unemployment is the way for you to go versus working."

Roeser added that a big reason restaurants might be struggling to find employees is simply due to the competitive job market right now.

Former Boise waitress Moriah Shipp left her serving job because the COVID-19 safety regulations drastically changed the amount she was paid at the start of the pandemic.

"A typical paycheck for someone is about $1,200 every two weeks,” Shipp said. “So I would be getting about $600 every two weeks which is a huge pay cut."

Before the pandemic, Shipp was serving about 10 tables at a time, but after health regulations came due to COVID-19, she was serving only five.

Eventually, Shipp quit her job and found other work that paid more.

"It's not worth someone's time to come in and get paid nothing basically and then hope someone would come in," she added.

Another reason restaurants may be struggling to hire is due to a surplus of available jobs in Idaho, partly because a whole generation is going into retirement.

"There is just a mass exodus from our workforce of baby boomers,” Roeser said. “They were such a large segment of our workforce and they are retiring.”

Idaho's unemployment rate was 3.3% in February, with about 31,000 people unemployed and looking for work, which is quite low, according to Roeser.

"We've certainly recovered quicker from the immediate downturn during the pandemic and I think that's why we have quite a few more jobs than the average state," she added.

The surplus of available jobs combined with pandemic life does not make things any easier for restaurants looking to hire.

"It's just a lot less people and a lot more stress right now," Torrey said.

Roeser added that workplace culture and the lack of benefits in the restaurant business could be another contributing factor to the industry’s lack of onboarding.

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