Staffing challenges remain for Triangle businesses as US unemployment hits record low

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Friday, February 3, 2023
Staffing challenges remain as US unemployment hits record low
Triangle restaurant owners respond to national unemployment hitting its lowest mark since 1969, as staffing challenges persist.

The government reported 517,000 jobs were added last month, a figure far surpassing most analyst predictions, as the national unemployment rate fell to 3.4%.

"If we're creating 517,000 jobs in January, we are very unlikely to go into recession in February, March, April, or May," said Gerald Cohen, Chief Economist at the Kenan Institute.

The release comes as revised figures for November and December also saw higher gains than initially reported, showcasing a positive general trend.

"This (January report) number is a very positive number. I'm still going to retain my view that we are going to have a recession, but it is likely going to be in the second half of this year," said Cohen.

Industries that saw job growth include government, healthcare, retail, construction and manufacturing.

"The bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act, the CHIPS Act, all of those build on the progress we've made thus far," said Jared Bernstein, Economic Policy Adviser to Vice President Harris.

President Joe Biden held a press conference Friday morning, where he highlighted the report.

"Black and Hispanic unemployment are near record lows. This matters. More working-age folks come into the labor market looking for jobs last month than have in a while," said Biden, referring to an increase in workforce participation of 25-54 year olds.

The report reinforces hiring challenges felt by a number of businesses, including in the restaurant industry.

"You don't want to stretch yourself thin where (staff) might not give the experience, make (customers) mad, and then they in turn give it back to the staff. And it's really hard to find that balance," said Tom Havrish, Owner of Lugano Ristorante in Cary.

The staffing shortages come as business has notably increased.

"This past holiday season, it was almost a record-breaking December so a lot more people are coming out," said Havrish, adding that weekend business has been robust. "We're always looking for new team members to add to our culture and our mission. We are looking for passionate individuals. Front of house and back of the house. So anywhere from host servers, bartenders, cooks, and even management. We are actually a growing brand right now," added Chloe Butler, General Manager of Tribeca Tavern in Cary.

Butler, like Havrish, said their goal is to avoid staff burnout.

"There are certainly days where we're stretched thinner than we'd like to be. So that's where we do keep those openings available so that we're not making people work seven days a week or 12 hour days or anything like that," Butler said.

Friday's report comes just days after the Federal Reserve moved forward with a .25% interest rate hike, a measure aimed at tamping down rising prices. Inflation sits at 6.5%, below a June peak of 9.1%, but well above the Fed's goal of 2%.

"From what I've seen and the amount of applications I've gotten in the past month, I think people are doubling up on their jobs to pay for everything that's going up. The cost of living - look at the rent prices, especially in the Triangle that all goes back to COVID," Havrish said.

"The Fed is shifting the focus from inflation to the labor market, and this has got to give them the heebie-jeebies because this is illustrative that the labor market is still extremely tight," Cohen noted.

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