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Kansas City workforce 'paralyzed' by incentives to not work

Stimulus checks play a role, UMKC professor says
Posted at 10:12 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 12:25:16-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As COVID-19 restrictions lift across the Kansas City metro, restaurants are able to increase their capacity to serve more customers. But many have chosen not to because there's a shortage of workers.

And one finance expert said incentives for those without a job are playing a role in the shortage.

"The latest stimulus checks, I mean these are obviously a great help to people who are getting them, but the bottom line is they are a disincentive for people to go out and find a job again," said Stephen Pruitt, chair of finance at the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Business owners have noticed the staffing shortage for the past couple of months.

"My biggest problem is staffing right now," said Jo Marie Scaglia, owner and creator of The Mixx and Caffetteria. "We are probably understaffed at least 30%."

David Lopez, general manger at Manny’s Mexican Restaurant, said his business in the same situation.

"Not a lot of people are walking through our doors to to take some jobs that we we desperately want to give this community," Lopez said.

What started out as an unemployment crisis has turned into a plea to work as metro restaurants need help as more people venture out to eat.

"I’m running overtimes at stores between 100 to 200 hours of overtime a week," Scaglia said.

The shortage also is taking its toll on those who are working, according to Scaglia.

"My team is working so hard that they’re tired," she said. "They’re working 70 hours of overtime, so it’s a financial burden on the restaurant and it’s a burden on the team because they don’t get to spend time with their families."

Last month, 41 Action News spoke with Megan and Colby Garrelts, owners of Rye Leawood and Rye Plaza.

In that interview, Megan Garrelts believe the reasons for the employee shortfall were complicated.

"I think some people took time off during COVID, re-evaluated what they wanted to do with their lives, spend time with family, some people have left the industry, some people are still on unemployment," Garrelts said. "You know it’s really personal preference and where people want to be, and I think COVID just heightened some realities for people in their work and life balance."

But the labor force problem isn't just limited to the restaurant and service industries – it's impacting businesses across the board, including construction.

"Right now, we are struggling with employees," Myron McCant, founder of MacPen Enterprises, said. "The workforce has been paralyzed."

McCant's company is creating a child-care facility on Prospect Avenue and 22nd Street in Kansas City, Missouri. They plan to open later this month, but it's been more of a challenge.

"There’s a shortage of laborers, there’s a shortage of materials [that] creates a more critical path than you would normally have," McCant said.

To change the narrative Pruitt laid out, businesses are looking at ways to serve incentives to lure workers in.

"We’re starting people at $12, $18 an hour just to try and capture them with benefits," Scaglia said. "So we’re doing everything we can."

They're also promoting why returning to work matters.

"Let's get back in the workforce again, come work for us," Lopez said. "We take care of people here in Kansas City."

Pruitt said he believes this will be a temporary problem as benefits run out later this year.