Nebraska restaurant

Hokes Cafe on old Lincoln Highway in Ogallala, Nebraska

(The Center Square) – The labor market in Nebraska is tight, and the restaurant industry in particular is having a difficult time finding enough workers, Zoe Olson, executive director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association told The Center Square.

"Nebraska's unemployment rate is 2.2%, the lowest in the nation " Olson said. "We don't have any more people in the state and we still have the same number of jobs available across the landscape."

In a September survey by the restaurant association, 90% of Nebraska operators said their restaurants currently lack enough employees to support the existing customer demand.

For months, restaurants have been reducing their hours and days that they are open to deal with the shortage, Olson said.

"Over the Fourth of July weekend and Labor Day, we had some restaurants that closed for several days just to give their staff time off," she said. "It's an ongoing situation trying to figure out how to let employees have some quality of life so they don't leave you."

Both food costs and labor costs are up, the survey found. Profits are down.

"Ninety-three percent of Nebraska operators say their profit margin is lower than it was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak," the association said. "None say their profit margin is higher."

Some restaurants have closed in part because of staffing shortages, Olson said.

There was actually a labor shortage in Nebraska even before the COVID-19 pandemic that only worsened once the pandemic hit, Olson said.

Ultimately, the solution is immigration reform to allow more migrants to enter the country legally, she said.

"The birth rate in Nebraska and the rest of the United States is not high enough to sustain our work force," she said. "Until we get true immigration reform, we really don't see a way out of this. Even if the birth rate were to increase dramatically, it would still be 20 years before those children would be old enough to work."