FILE - Unemployment line

(The Center Square) – Albuquerque businesses eager to reopen their doors are finding it difficult to attract enough staff to make that possible, triggering speculation about reverse work incentives created by unemployment checks.

KRQE reported several businesses having this issue including local chain restaurant, Garcia’s Kitchen, which is short nearly 40 employees.

“It’s been a big struggle,” Dan Garcia, co-owner of Garcia’s Kitchen, told KRQE. “We hire people and they don’t show up to work, or they come into work, they work for a day or two and then they’re gone.”

The shortage is affecting the restaurant's operating hours now, forcing them to close on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Larry Sonntag, chief of staff at the New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC), said he has observed a similar phenomenon.

A small computer service and supplier company that had to lay off three employees after the mandatory shutdown in 2020 was unable to convince some to return to work after the company figured out how to use them remotely, according to Sonntag.

“[The employer] offered positions to three people or four people to get them back to work and two of them just straight up said, ‘I’m very happy with the amount of money I’m getting with the unemployment payments,’” Sonntag told The Center Square.

Sonntag said early on they felt the state and federal governments were providing a lot of disincentives to work that would have a lasting impact.

“There’s a problem here whenever incentives to not work are overriding somebody’s desire to work,” Sonntag said. "Then whenever they’re offered a job they say, ‘No, I want to continue to sit on the couch and get paid to do nothing.’

It’s happening elsewhere as well.

Faced with a similar dearth of staff, one of New Mexico’s biggest hotel chains, Heritage Hotels, ran a job fair asking people to show up with their resumes to be hired on the spot, according to Sonntag.

They are paying people just to show up for a job opportunity, Sonntag said.

NMBC pointed out this incentive quandary to New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions and called for action.

“A specific process was put into place so that in that exact case, if you called an employee to come back to work and they said, ‘No, thank you, I’m going to just keep getting unemployment benefits,’ that could be reported to Workforce Solutions here in New Mexico and in theory they would go back to that person and stop paying them benefits because they’d been offered gainful employment,” Sonntag said.

Sonntag said that he has no idea if benefits are actually being pulled, but there is now a pipeline for employers to report such cases to the department.