Lafayette businesses continue to experience labor shortages amid nationwide economic woes

Before Kris Allen was hired to keep local restaurant Cafe 20.3 alive, he was an accountant and bookkeeper for the businesses' parent company.

"Now I'm managing restaurants,” Allen said.

That's because employee shortages have forced the restaurant into a tough position. Allen said the owners were close to selling the place before he was hired to help keep it afloat a month ago.

Cafe 20.3, located on the Bayou off East University Avenue, now closes at 2 p.m. on weekdays and no longer opens on the weekends. They have also scaled down the menu.

“The people that are working have to work more and everybody's a little tired,” Allen said. “Morale, I guess, is not the best. I’m getting my hands wrapped around this whole situation and we'll figure it out. We'll keep it alive.”

Jobs: Louisiana job growth expected to slow as country heads toward potential recession

Two years removed from the economic fallout caused by the pandemic, Lafayette and U.S. businesses are continuing to experience labor shortages, leading many to cut hours, scale down services and put more strain on current employees.

Tomikos Williams, owner of Angel’s Maids and Janitorial Services, which cleans several Lafayette law firms and banks, said he employs just five people now, compared to the 16 he had before the pandemic.

“I had folks quit. I have law firms that I work for, they were having the same issue -- it was hard to get staff,” Williams said.

Williams said some clients continued paying them even when they weren’t cleaning to help keep the business alive throughout the shutdowns caused by the pandemic.

Though he pays relatively well compared to minimum wage jobs in the area, applicants are hard to come by and those he hires tend to only work for a few months.

“It's happening worse here than the rest of the country – people exited the labor force through COVID and just have not returned,” said Gary Wagner, an economist at the University of Louisiana.

From May 2020 to March 2022, Louisiana had the fifth lowest percentage of job recovery compared to pre-pandemic levels in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More: Around 66,000 Louisiana workers quit their jobs in March, but firings are near record lows

There were nearly 200,000 jobs in the Lafayette metro area as of January, according to the UL’s quarterly economic forecast, about 6,000 jobs lower than before the pandemic. This puts the area near the middle of the pack compared to other metro areas in the state.

Hammond and Alexandria have recovered nearly all their jobs. Lake Charles, Houma-Thibodaux and New Orleans-Metairie metro have the lowest percentages of jobs regained.

“Overall, the labor market outlook in Lafayette is pretty strong relative to the state over the next year,” Wagner said. “I think the outlook for the national economy has weakened a lot, especially in the last year. And the main risk factor for that is just inflation.”

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Lafayette businesses cut hours, scale down services amid labor shortages