Businesses struggle to find help despite state’s decision not to extend unemployment benefits

ATLANTA — Georgia small businesses are still facing a major labor shortage a month after state leaders ended extra federal unemployment benefits in an effort to stimulate the job market.

Georgia’s labor commissioner Mark Butler told Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray that he stands by the decision to end the benefits.

He said it was the right step but also acknowledges that Georgia businesses are in a very difficult spot trying to find employees.

A new study looking at data from small businesses found essentially no difference in overall hiring numbers between states that ended the benefits like Georgia and those still paying.

Iberian Pig owner Federico Castellucci says he can’t hire enough employees.

“It’s absolutely brutal,” Castellucci said. “We’ve been desperately trying to get customers in our dining room for the past 15 months and now that we have the customers, we are actually taking tables back out again.”

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It has been one month since Georgia stopped providing expanded federal unemployment benefits and two months since it announced the change in an effort to get more Georgians back in the workforce.

“I feel very confident it was the right decision, it was the right time,” Butler said.

Butler told Gray that the Department of Labor has seen a 20% drop since the record job postings on the Employ Georgia site this spring.

“There’s no doubt we are starting to see some signs, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Butler said.

A study by economists from a company called Gusto that handles human resources for small companies compared states that ended unemployment benefits to states that kept them. The study found that ending the extra unemployment benefits early has not had a significant effect on the job market in those states.

“In aggregate, when you look at these numbers, there’s no difference in states that ended unemployment early versus states that are keeping them,” Gusto economist Luke Pardue said.

At Lucky & Lady in Atlanta, the demand returned earlier this summer, but they were having major problems finding people to hire.

“I can’t exactly say the end of the stimulus money was the reason, but I can tell you that within 48 hours of the end of that money, our applications increased by 400%,” Lucky & Lady owner Ryan Deal said.

But Lucky & Lady also significantly increased pay and benefits to attract and keep staff, like Corbinn Gettis, who went to work there before his extra federal unemployment benefits ran out.

“I wanted to get something going. I didn’t want to wait until the end to hit the job market. I wanted to get in at a good time,” Gettis said.

The team at Gusto did find that in states that ended the unemployment benefits like Georgia more adult workers did go get jobs, but in states that are still paying the extra benefits, the difference was actually made up by adding more teenagers in the workforce.

Gusto also found the higher the state vaccination rate, the more people re-entered the labor market.

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