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Labor shortage causes SC businesses to cut back, raise wages and close down

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Businesses across South Carolina are seeing a spike in demand but are struggling to meet it.

People in the hospitality industry are seeing reservations increase, sales pick up, and more people eager to get out of the house. This would be welcome news if they weren’t facing a labor shortage at the same time.

“Things came back pretty quickly this spring. People started to hire up and then sort of ran out of people to hire. Now there are job fairs and few people show up,” South Carolina Parks Recreations and Tourism Director Duane Parrish said.

Parrish said this can significantly impact customer’s experience because businesses will need to leave tables and hotel rooms empty, cut down on their menu options, and in some cases close their doors.

Patricia Truesdale worries her small restaurant outside Columbia will need to go out of business soon because of the labor shortage despite managing to stay afloat throughout the pandemic.

“I don’t think we will make it. I really don’t,” Truesdale said.

Throughout the pandemic, Truesdale was able to stay in business with only one other person on staff. But despite having one extra part-time employee, she says her situation is not sustainable.

Truesdale was once able to get enough business from nearby office buildings, however, she says a lot of those workers are either working from home or no longer go out for a sit-down lunch.

She is confident she would be able to turn a bigger profit if she could stay open later at night or over the weekends. Unfortunately, more hours require more manpower, and all her attempts to hire online or through word of mouth haven’t worked.

“After leaving my state job and putting [my money] into the building and the upgrade…It’s been very difficult,” she said.

Five Points Association President and restaurant owner Steve Cook says this is happening to businesses all over the state.

“There’s not a business I haven’t heard of that is not hiring right now in the city in the state,” Cook said.

In fact, he has heard of instances where applicants have accepted a job and agreed on a start date only to never show up for work.

Carowinds amusement park is looking to hire 500 seasonal workers for the summer and is facing a similar challenge.

“As we’re seeing across a wide range of industries, the availability of labor continues to be a challenge,” wrote Carowinds vice president Manny Gonzales in a statement.

To attract workers, the park is raising their starting pay from $10-$13 per hour to $15.

Parrish said he is hearing of a few reasons why the labor shortage is so prevalent this season.

“It’s a combination of things: low unemployment before the pandemic, people who left the industry during the pandemic at high unemployment, and then stimulus money that came in earlier the year, and federal money is an incentive to stay home,” he said.

However, Parrish is hopeful Gov. McMaster’s decision to stop the flow of federal pandemic unemployment programs to South Carolinians by the end of June will encourage people to apply to these open jobs.

But Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network CEO Ann Warner said the problem is larger than just increased unemployment checks, particularly for women.

“[Women] are often the breadwinners and caregivers for their families, so they are working to bring home income. But they are also responsible in many households for kids and elders who depend on them. The pandemic has disrupted school and childcare and it has thrown that system for a full loop,” Warner said.

For Truesdale, the reasons why the shortage is happening matter less than the solution because for now the only thing she can think to do is to hope and pray.

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