Are Government Benefits Contributing to Worker Shortages
Austin Beerworks is a brewery in Austin, Texas, that was founded in 2011. It manufactures, packages, and sells beer to local retail stores, bars, and restaurants; it also serves beer in its own taproom, along with a menu of burgers, tacos, and nachos prepared by the brewery’s own food truck. The past year has been a roller coaster: in March, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the company shut down the taproom and food truck and furloughed seven employees. “It was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do as business owners,” one of Austin Beerworks’ co-founders, Michael Graham, told me recently. “We felt helpless. Events were totally out of our control, and there was no way to plan for the future. It was extremely difficult.”
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They were able to hire some of those people back a few weeks later to work on the wholesale side of the business, which remained strong as people stuck at home started buying more at grocery and convenience stores. Still, it was difficult to navigate the shifting regulations and lockdown orders, and the taproom was reopened and closed again several times. The company was able to survive, in part, owing to the help of a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and because of savings it had accumulated for a down payment on a piece of land where the brewery had planned to expand before the pandemic. On March 2nd, Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, lifted all mask mandates and restrictions on indoor dining in the state, and vaccines started to become more widely available. “Those together seemed to give people the general confidence and optimism to start going out again,” Graham said. “In that first week, we sold more kegs than we sold in the previous year.”
On March 6th, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic-aid package that included enhanced unemployment benefits, which many Americans were already receiving from previous rescue bills. The plan provides three hundred dollars a week, down from the prior six hundred dollars, in addition to unemployment-insurance payments available in each state, and lasts until the end of September. For some people, the weekly total comes out to the same amount of money they would make working forty hours a week for fifteen dollars an hour.