Where are workers to fill all the empty jobs in Anchorage? It’s complicated. – Anchorage Daily News

by | Oct 2, 2022 | Jobs

Sweet Caribou and Bema Coffee owner James Strong helps his staff with the lunch rush on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (Loren Holmes / ADN) The Anchorage Daily News and the Anchorage Museum are collaborating on an ongoing series of articles, Neighbors: Stories from Anchorage’s pandemic years. We’re collecting stories and making opportunities for residents to share experiences from the past two years. We’d love to hear from you. Email neighbors@adn.com.• • •Inside James Strong’s new Midtown coffee shop, Bema Coffee, the freshly painted mural, new raw wood tables and espresso machine sat ready. He wanted to start serving locally roasted coffee.“My only problem now is employees,” he said recently. “There’s absolutely no one to work.”Strong also owns Sweet Caribou, the salad shop next door, and has been struggling with the labor shortage for years now. Early in the pandemic when businesses were limited by mandates and workers became eligible for enhanced unemployment, he thought no one was applying because they were making more money staying home. But those benefits ran out a long time ago. And the workers haven’t come back.“I now believe there’s a lot of variables,” he said.The labor shortage continues to burden employers in Anchorage and across the country, especially in retail, hospitality and food service. It’s also a fact of life for consumers who have become used to long drive-through lines, long waits and restaurants closing for two or more days a week. A lot of people are asking: where have the workers gone?Sweet Caribou and Bema Coffee owner James Strong helps his staff with the lunch rush on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (Loren Holmes / ADN) Strong was able to open his coffee shop, but is still looking for employees. Before he started Sweet Caribou, he was studying for a PhD in economics. He has a theory that more people have retired than before the pandemic. On top of that, people aren’t moving to Alaska like they once did. Some restaurant staff have switched to the burgeoning cannabis industry. There are also fewer workers from other countries, he said. Alaska economists who are studying the shortage say he’s not far off.[A shrinking workforce is holding back Anchorage’s economic recovery after COVID-19, report finds]The state’s labor market problems fall in line with national trends, said Neal Fried, a state economist. The lack of workers may be a little more extreme right now in Alaska than Outside because of the seasonal nature of the economy, he said. The Lower 48 economy has recovered in many ways from the pandemic, but Alaska’s economy is still catching up, he said. The state has low unemployment rates for Alaska, but that’s still a little higher than the national aver …

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