Ethics & Public Policy Center

The Service Industry Can’t Find Workers. Blame Low Vaccine Rates and High Unemployment Benefits.

Published in The Washington Post on April 19, 2021


Many employers, especially restaurants and small retail businesses, are having a hard time finding workers. This is likely the result of trends in covid-19 vaccinations and the generous unemployment benefits that were expanded due to the pandemic. Congress needs to nip this problematic trend in the bud if it doesn’t want the economic recovery to stall.

The vaccination data are clear: Most people in the age groups likely to work in restaurants and similar businesses remain unvaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 80 percent of Americans aged 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose. The rate drops to 57 percent among people between 50 and 64 and plummets to 28 percent among those ages 18 to 29. Since roughly a quarter of restaurant workers are historically younger than 35, a supermajority of the potential labor pool for restaurant workers remains unvaccinated. Other industries hit hard by the pandemic, such as hotels, also have much younger workforces than other sectors of the economy.

The workers in these sectors may be less likely to return to work because they would face a higher risk of contracting covid-19. These industries require face-to-face interactions with many people, but they are not likely to have protection against the disease and they aren’t likely to receive the vaccination soon due to current distribution rates. The United States is currently administering an average of 3 million doses a day, with many going toward second shots for the partially vaccinated. It will take weeks — perhaps even months — before majorities of the younger age groups will have received at least partial protection against the virus, even if vaccinations pick up when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is reauthorized for distribution. That could dramatically inhibit economic recovery across the board.

Click here to read the rest of the piece on the Washington Post’s website

Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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