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Pandemic Benefits Created Hiring Issues, Tennessee Restaurant Owner Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now in Tennessee, extended unemployment benefits and on July 3, which is coming right up. Peter Demos is our next guest. He is a restaurant owner with five locations around Nashville, which means he's hiring. Mr. Demos, good morning.

PETER DEMOS: Good morning. How are you this morning?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. Thank you, sir. Have you been finding enough workers?

DEMOS: Have I been - no. I mean, finding workers has been the largest challenge we've had completely for this last year. We've had - and really starting really at the of this year, we have been short about 20 to 30% of our normal staff that we've had. And we've had to make a lot of adjustments along the way.

INSKEEP: Well, the theory here, I guess, is that more people will come to you for work if the extended unemployment benefits are cut off, as is happening in Tennessee. Do you believe that's going to happen?

DEMOS: I think it's going to have some impact on it. I don't know if it'll have the impact that everybody is hoping for, but I do think it'll have some impact. And partly - and part of that that that I'm seeing is that after the governor made the announcement in May, we started seeing our management teams starting - the applications starting coming back for our management teams pretty quickly after that. And then we also started seeing an increased number of applications. The problem is, is that was for them to maintain the unemployment they were on. So to give you an idea, we had - in two of our locations, we had over 200 applicants. Of those 200 applicants, we had six people show for interviews. They all were asked to come and interview. We had six people show for the interview, and only two took the job.

INSKEEP: I want to clarify what you're saying. I think you're telling me that you believe some people are applying for a job because the unemployment requirements - they have to show that they're looking for work, but they're not serious about it is what you think.

DEMOS: That's absolutely correct. And I'm seeing that not only among my industry, but also friends of mine who have work in landscaping, poor construction, many of those other jobs. And they're seeing the same thing. We're getting a lot of applicants, but just no one shows up for the interview. And even the few that do, there are very few who are actually taking the jobs once they show.

INSKEEP: Now, let's talk this through a little bit more because there are a lot of anecdotal stories like the one you've just related. But when economists have tried to look at this over the past year, they've had deeply mixed findings. Our colleague Scott Horsley was pointing out that economists at the University of Chicago were very uncertain about whether extended unemployment was the reason people aren't going back to work. There are all these other reasons, like vaccinations or parenting needs and schools and day care. Do you think that the end on July 3 of extended unemployment is going to fix your problem?

DEMOS: No, I don't think it'll fix it. Like I said, I think it'll start the process. And I do agree that there are other factors involved. There are people who are still scared. There are people who are wanting - and there are definitely child care issues. But I think - at the end, I think it is a beginning for some of those people who aren't scared, who are taking - and I won't say taking advantage of the system, but there are people out there who are going to be returning from it. So I do think it is a starting process of it. And just to illustrate, yesterday alone, we had 22 actually hired employees that came in yesterday as we start getting closer to that deadline.

INSKEEP: And in a couple of seconds, are you paying people more in this circumstance?

DEMOS: Absolutely. We've increased our pay. We've increased benefits. We've increased everything in order to try to bring people in.

INSKEEP: Mr. Demos, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

DEMOS: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Peter Demos is a restaurant owner in Middle Tennessee.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SIX PARTS SEVEN'S "COLD THINGS NEVER CATCH FIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.