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Iowa sees employment growth after ending extra $300 unemployment benefit early, state still has workforce shortage

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 6:16 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Pandemic related unemployment benefits ended today nationwide. Millions of Americans have been receiving an extra $300 per week. Iowa chose to end its extra benefit early in an effort to get people back to work.

Adam Hadjis can’t point to just one factor for why it’s been hard to find workers at Gianna’s Italian Beef in Cedar Rapids. The restaurant is one of many businesses across the state urgently looking to hire.

”No one’s coming through the door, no one’s responding to you know job postings and things like that so it’s really frustrating,” Hadjis said, Owner at Gianna’s Italian Beef.

Governor Reynolds ended Iowa’s participation in the extra federal unemployment benefit in June.

”When the enhanced unemployment was ended, we did see an uptick in the number of people applying and taking jobs back in the industry,” Jessica Dunker said, President and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

Still, the Iowa Restaurant Association says at least half of restaurants are operating under capacity because they’re short-staffed. So ending the extra unemployment money was not the sole motivator for everyone to get back to work.

”You know this entire thing has made people take a different look at their lives right, this has been a world shaking event,” Charlie Wishman explained, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

Earlier this summer, the group spoke out against ending the pandemic related benefit early. Wishman told us that’s because the pandemic is not over.

”Is it that they’re lazy that they don’t want to go back and work in an industry possibly where they’re putting themselves at risk of getting, let’s face it, a deadly disease that’s killed hundreds, over half a million Americans right,” Wishman explained.

He told us other factors, like childcare may play a role in workforce as well, that’s something Dunker agrees with.

”We really feel like there’s a portion of our workforce that it may take some time to get back until they are confident that their childcare situations are back on track and that they know that school’s going to stay in session,” Dunker said.

Another factor is wages. Wishman told us some people won’t settle for the pay they did pre-pandemic.

”It’s made people reevaluate the type of work that they do. Is it worth it for the pay they get, and the benefits they get, and is it worth it for how they’ve been treated,” he said.

At Gianna’s Italian Beef, Hadjis is looking for young people, wanting work experience, not necessarily a lifelong career. He says he bases pay on performance and wants to see people working hard. Those wanting to apply should visit the restaurant and introduce themselves.

Iowa Workforce Development says they have seen more people looking for jobs since the pandemic related benefit ended in the state. The number of people walking into Iowa’s unemployment offices looking for work went from 5,220 in June to 6,403 in August, a 23% increase. They told us it is still too early to know the full impact of the decision.

There are still more jobs available in Iowa than people on unemployment, a challenge that makes staffing businesses of all kinds across the state difficult.

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