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Economy

What’s Working: Seasonal hiring sputtering for restaurants, resorts across Colorado

Plus: Restaurants push for more federal aid, jobless data adjusted due to fraud and more.

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It’s opening weekend for Colorado businesses that hire seasonal summer workers. But many industries that do are still in desperate need of help, including construction companies, hotels and, especially, restaurants.

Bob Kato, who operates two restaurants in Frisco, shared his dire-straits details with me for a story published earlier this week. He still needed four to five more people for the kitchen at Island Grill at the Frisco Bay Marina. Without them, the place will probably have to close on some days during the busy summer season. 

But the seasonal labor shortage in his community has more to do with the scarcity of housing for workers. Houses and rentals snapped up by out-of-area buyers before and during the pandemic have left seasonal staff with few affordable options.

Tavern West owner Bob Kato wipes off the dust left from the winter season inside the restaurant Monday, May 24, 2021, in Frisco. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

“That’s what’s driving a lot of employees out of here,” Kato said. “I’ve got a bartender that’s thinking about leaving and she makes really good money. Her rent’s coming up and she doesn’t know if she wants to spend another year (paying) exorbitant rents.”

My colleague Jason Blevins touched on the housing issues in Colorado’s resort communities in another story you should read. Frisco’s Mayor Hunter Mortensen has been researching a state-of-the-emergency declaration for housing to bring more attention to the situation. And it’s not just affecting seasonal workers, he said.

“Even high-level professional jobs offered through a recruitment firm (have) people accept them and then they have to turn them down because they can’t find a place to live, even on a professional salary,” Mortensen said. “Take that down to smaller levels — the kids in between college or on summer vacation — and they’re looking at $800 to rent a room in a house with five other people. And you can’t make enough money in town to do that.”

In other words, this issue is complex with the pandemic aggravating existing unresolved problems. Those that are struggling the most are also raising wages and offering incentives.

Monarch Casino Resort Spa is offering a $1,400 signing bonus and has increased pay for certain jobs, said Erica Ferris, the resort’s marketing director. Housekeepers can make $19.50 an hour now, compared with $18 an hour last August. 

“Monarch Casino Resort Spa is always auditing salaries around the state in order to attract and retain the best team members,” she said in an email. “When we noticed last fall that hospitality workers in many mountain towns were being paid $18 an hour on average, we increased our hourly wage to match.”

It’s competition with other service-industry employers. It’s rising cost of housing throughout the state. It’s so many things. No easy answers here, but The Colorado Sun continues to cover jobs and housing statewide. Share your own story about what’s happening in your community with me at tamara@coloradosun.com.

Restaurant industry seeks more aid

Speaking of restaurants, the sector was indeed one of the hardest hit in the pandemic due to forced closures and bans on in-person dining. Many restaurants applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans administered by the Small Business Administration. In the latest round of federal aid, SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund provided additional funds. 

That helped a number of restaurants and bars survive. According to the latest sales receipts filed with the state’s Department of Revenue, the number of food and drinking establishments has increased each month this year through March, when 9,405 filed sales reports.

That’s still down 28.4% from March 2020 and, for that matter, down 32.9% from March 2019. But open businesses are making more than they have been in months with March retail sales receipts totaling $1.2 billion, up 37.5% during the devastating March last year.

Nationwide, more than 362,000 restaurants applied and requested $75 billion from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. But the program only had $28.6 billion to hand out, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the fund. The SBA stopped accepting new applications on May 24. 

It wasn’t enough, said Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association. 

“Clearly, there is a great need for this funding, but many restaurants, including Colorado-based businesses, will be turned away unless the RRF is refunded by Congress,” Riggs said. 

Even though places are clear to reopen, Colorado restaurants lost out on $3 billion in revenue last year and it’ll take “an estimated three to five years for full revenue levels to return,” she said. 

Beyond lobbying for additional federal aid for restaurants, the trade group said it’s also pushing local lawmakers to allow expanded patio seating and sales tax holidays this summer. To help its own members, the association also has added a job board and launched the Colorado ProStart program to recruit high schoolers interested in restaurant and hospitality management jobs. 

Jobless data adjusted due to unemployment fraud 

More data documenting Colorado’s tussle with unemployment fraudsters was shared this week by the state Department of Labor and Employment. But it wasn’t a straight-out statement of how much fraud was going on but rather a change to historic unemployment claims.

The number of claims for regular state unemployment and federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (for gig workers) were adjusted all the way back to Jan. 16, when the state launched its new MyUI+ computer system. 

Gone are 86,650 regular initial claims made between Jan. 10 and May 8, while PUA claims were revised downward by 5,583 in the same period.

But initial claims don’t always lead to benefits. That just counts those who filed an unemployment claim for the first time. Those who return week after week and make a continued claim are the ones getting paid. 

For continued claims, the state revised the number of regular claims down by an average of 27,600 per week between Jan. 10 and May 8, while PUA claims dropped an average of 20,114 per week.

CDLE did not share details about the financial impact but in April, the agency said the state had lost nearly $19.37 million to unemployment fraudsters in the past year. 

→ ID.me, the state’s tool to verify the identities of unemployed folks, has now verified 249,519 people, roughly 9,600 more people than last week. >> See updates

Other bits of employment news

Colorado Jumpstart got off to a good start with 1,567 jobless Coloradans opting in as of May 26. The state’s incentive pays $1,600 to unemployed workers who start a new job by Sunday — and $1,200 if they start a job between May 30 and June 26. There are eligibility rules and you don’t get the money until after you’ve worked for four to eight weeks. >> FAQs

→ The number of people filing for unemployment for the first time continues to decline each week. CDLE reported that 4,119 people applied for regular state benefits for the week of May 22. Another 877 people applied for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is available to gig workers and the self-employed. 

→ Not job news but Colorado has its own $5 million sweepstakes to encourage residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s five $1 million awards. If you’ve been vaccinated, the government already knows and has you in the system — or not? >> Check your status


Thanks for reading and have a great holiday weekend! ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

MORE: Read stories on Colorado jobs and unemployment

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