Prolonged worker shortages leave Mid-Michigan businesses in limbo

Updated: May. 16, 2021 at 10:23 PM EDT
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PORT AUSTIN, Mich. (WJRT) - Finding help is becoming a massive problem as businesses reopen and restrictions relax.

Across the state and across the nation, a worker shortage has business owners scratching their heads.

“It’s a problem that’s killing our businesses,” said Chris Roth.

He hadn’t receive a single response to the help wanted ad his Thumb-area restaurant put up on social media, leaving his kitchen understaffed and him to pick up the slack.

“We still have positions we really need filled,” Roth said.

While the folks at the Farm Restaurant had it better than most -- able to fill their busiest shifts during the critical summer season -- Roth wondered when his business would see daylight.

“Like all business owners… we’re hoping that they rescind extended unemployment benefits,” Roth said.

There were around 700,000 Michiganders on unemployment as of the end of last month, according to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. With extended benefits paying many the equivalent of more than $15 an hour, the state announced it would restore the work search requirement suspended as the pandemic raged.

Lawmakers are under pressure from business groups, who claim finding help was harder than ever.

When last ABC12 touched base with the Lamplighter in Sebawing back in April, its owner shared concerns rising case counts could shut them down. A month later, it was an entirely different concern that had long-time cook Barb Phillips on the phone.

“We have been having trouble finding workers and not for lack of advertising, that’s for sure,” she related.

“I should be interacting with customers, troubleshooting and stuff like that,” Roth said. “I end up washing tables instead.”

Back in Port Austin, Roth has become a jack of all trades, dividing the extra workload among his other employees. He still admitted there simply wasn’t enough time in the day.

“What we end up doing is scheduling… less reservations at certain times. We have to have enough staff to accommodate the people we have.”

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