New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO: Now a pandemic of no workers

Restaurants are still short-staffed as food service industry workers make up the biggest category of employees receiving unemployment benefits in New Mexico.

Department of Workforce Solutions acting secretary Ricky Serna told a legislative committee recently that there were approximately 8,500 “food prep and serving-related” workers on unemployment as of May 1 – more than any other category of workers, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said unemployed workers need to plan ahead for when benefits run out.

“I think it’s a danger for people staying on unemployment right now,” she told The Center Square. “The market is going to be flooded at some point with employees that are coming off of unemployment, and now is the time to get a job because you can name your price up to a certain point.”

New Mexico’s restaurants are far from recovered, according to Wight, and the biggest thing holding them back is a lack of workers.

“They haven’t recovered at all,” she said. “It went from a virus pandemic and now it’s a pandemic of basically not having enough employees to open fully, so restaurants are still in crisis to some degree.”

Wight says she’s not surprised at the reticence of New Mexico’s food service workers to reenter the workforce, however.

“Talk about gun shy, these folks have been laid off three different times in the last year, and I think they’re just nervous about coming back,” she said.

Each time they were laid off, these employees had to apply for services, which is not easy to do, Wight points out.

She also holds the $300 in weekly, enhanced federal unemployment benefits as partially to blame as well.

Wight says the worker shortage is particularly visible in the restaurant industry because everyone eats out.

“You see restaurants, you go to restaurants, they have a sign on the door that says we don’t have our full contingent back, so please be patient with us,” she said. “So it’s a crisis of sorts.”

She adds 78,000 people are still unemployed in the state across industries.

“This is way bigger than just restaurants,” she said.

Also holding the industry back is a number of other problems.

“We’re having a very hard time getting supplies,” she said. “Our food costs are going through the roof because of inflation and the fact that we can’t get certain items, but that all goes back to the original crisis which is workers not coming off of unemployment to take jobs.”

This article was originally posted on New Mexico Restaurant Association CEO: Now a pandemic of no workers

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