Service industry struggles to reclaim workers despite massive public demand


AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 50,000 people are still out of work in the Austin metro, according to Workforce Solutions Capital Area, an organization dedicated to connecting job seekers to employment.

And beginning on Saturday, the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits will end in Texas. Facing a staff shortage and high demand from busy revelers, some restaurant and bars owners are hoping the change will lead to more people applying for jobs.

Recent data from the Austin Chamber of Commerce shows 97% of the jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered. However, for the hospitality industry, only 74% have been reclaimed.

The Texas Restaurant Association said many of these people, out of desperation, chose different careers altogether after the industry was forcibly shut down in 2020 due to ongoing safety precautions. Other industry workers have told KXAN they still fear returning to work, where your job duty is to closely interact with hundreds of people daily.

However, the clear message many service industry workers wanted to get across is their absence shouldn’t be interpreted as laziness or complacency in receiving unemployment benefits.

Kelsey Erickson Streufert, the vice president of Government Relations and Advocacy for the Texas Restaurant Association said the impact of the industry shutdown last March is still being felt. Workers, restaurant owners, suppliers and the general community are still hurting. However, she said the road to recovery will depend on collaboration.

“It’s going to take time to rebuild our workforce and be back in the place we want to be,” Erickson Streufert said. “It’s a struggle, its a process, but I’d much rather be here than where we were 12 months ago.”

She said it’s up to the industry to make changes that excite their staff and help them see their employment opportunity as a career and not a job.

The TRA has also come to an agreement with the Texas Workforce Commission: For a limited time, food handler licenses and alcohol certification fees will be waived for any returning hospitality worker.

As for guests, they’re being asked to show grace to businesses still struggling to get back on their feet. It’s something that many said they’re willing to do.

“They’re having to re-staff and retrain. What they are really having to do is relearn something that took years to hone,” said Galen Farris, a Las Vegas resident visiting Austin. “We’re just happy to have them back.”

The Texas Restaurant Association reports around 10,000 businesses permanently closed due to the pandemic. In the greater Austin area, that’s around 1,500 restaurants.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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