HELP WANTED: Massachusetts businesses still struggling to hire workers

BILLERICA, Mass. — There are signs outside the Taco Bell and KFC on Boston Rd. warning of “extreme labor constraints” before you even get to the menu.

The fast food restaurant is only open from noon until 8 p.m. and you can no longer eat your chicken or tacos inside because there not enough workers to staff the lobby.

The ongoing worker shortage is taking a toll on restaurants and retailers in different ways. Businesses are having to get creative survive.

“One way is to cut way back on hours, [operating] days, and frankly, to cut back on the quality of your level of service,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Hurst said around 500,000 more workers are employed in Massachusetts than a year ago. The state’s unemployment rate is 6.1 percent, far from the 2.7 percent unemployment rate in Feb. 2020, Hurst said.

“If you’re a big national retailer you’re probably better off than a lot of the smaller ones that struggle to find the employees and struggle with the current wage levels,” Hurst said.

Hurst is crossing his fingers that more people will enter the workforce when Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ends Sept. 4.

“That certainly has been a huge economic incentive for a lot of folks to hold off going back to that job search,” Hurst said.

“Right now it’s just brutal,” said Tim Burke, owner of the In a Pickle restaurant in Waltham. Burke has been trying to fill several positions for months and said he’s still understaffed.

“It’s tough because everyone wants to come out and eat. The restrictions are easing down and we’re trying to a capitalize on that and we can’t,” Burke said.

Burke also owns Playmakers, a bar and restaurant on Moody St. that remains closed because Burke said he can’t hire enough people to staff it.

“I think the pandemic really just messed with people’s heads and people are still kind of readjusting their lifestyle to be minimalists so they don’t have to work so much,” Burke said.

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