Summer Bummer: Labor shortages hit theme parks, restaurants, and swimming pools

Employers blame enhanced federal jobless benefits amid no signs Biden or Democratic-led Congress plan changes to pandemic stimulus bill.

Updated: June 4, 2021 - 11:15pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A summer labor storage is hitting theme parks, restaurants and community pools, and there's no indication the Democratic-led Congress is planning to address it with legislation.

Restaurant owners in particular have attributed the labor shortage in their industry to the enhanced jobless benefits that President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act extended through September.

Congress passed the massive stimulus bill in March, which included a weekly enhanced pandemic jobless benefit of $300 on top of state benefits. Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the bill without votes from Republicans.

In the absence of congressional action, governors in at least 25 states have voluntarily decided to end the federal jobless benefit program due to the labor storage in their states.

Only two of the states ending the participation in the program, Massachusetts and Vermont, have Democratic governors, according to a report from CNBC. As of Friday, weekly federal pandemic jobless benefits remained in the other 25 U.S. states.

In Virginia, the theme park Kings Dominion reported that it did not have enough workers for the summer, despite raising its starting wage for park employees to $13 per hour. Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens are reducing park hours for patrons as a result of the worker shortage.

In Orlando, Fla., Universal has raised its starting wage to $15 per hour for new workers as a way to fill job openings ahead of the summer season. 

Community pools and homeowners associations across the country are having trouble finding lifeguards for the summer. 

In Chicago and California, the lifeguard shortage is being attributed to a mix of the enhanced jobless benefits offered during the pandemic as well as a decrease in foreign exchange students.

The program the allow such students to work in the U.S. during summers was suspended during the pandemic and just restarted in April.

Worker shortage has been an issue in the food service industry throughout the pandemic. But the problem has become more dire for restaurants as states and localities loosen COVID-19 restrictions. Some restaurants are closing a few days each week due to a lack of help. Others are offering signing bonuses to attract workers to fill openings. 

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is one of the GOP senators calling on the Biden administration to end the supplemental federal jobless benefits. 

"You have people on unemployment insurance who are getting the additional $300 on top of the state benefit – in Ohio the average is $360 plus $300, so $660 a week – plus the first $10,000 is not taxed. So if you’re a truck driver making $40,000 a year, you’re being taxed, but if you’re on unemployment insurance, your first $10,000 of UI is not being taxed. How is that fair?" Portman said in May. 

"Well, it creates an additional disincentive to go to work. So I’m not saying it’s the only reason people aren’t going back to work, but if you talk to the small business folks in your state, you will find it’s one of the big reasons."

Last month, Biden said his administration would work with states to take jobless benefits away from recipients who refuse job offers. 

"My expectation is that, as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments, and if they do they’ll find plenty of workers," Biden said.