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Local businesses struggling to find employees

Right now, chef Jeffery DeAlejandro can't hire enough employees to open the restaurant up seven days per week again.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Help wanted signs are up in storefronts across the country, but thousands of openings remain unfilled.

In downtown Knoxville, OliBea owner and chef, Jeffery DeAlejandro, said business is picking up. 

Spanish Version: Negocios locales están confrontando problemas para encontrar empleados

But right now, he can't hire enough employees to open the restaurant up seven days per week again.

OliBea has been in business for seven years.

11 months ago, the new location in Old City was a fresh start for chef DeAlejandro. 

"What a year... what a time to open up a new business," DeAlejandro said.

COVID-19 closed the restaurant for months. 

"Things are starting to pick back up and get busier," DeAlejandro said.

But for now, OliBea remains closed two days a week for a different reason.  

"The reason why we're not open fully again is...we don't have a full staff," DeAlejandro said. We've even offered a $300 signing bonus for line cooks, but it seems like everyone is in a struggle."

It's a multi-layered problem plaguing businesses here at home and across the country. 

"We're about halfway recovered from the pandemic... meaning we have about 9 million jobs to go to get back to where we were in February of 2020," Dr. Marianne Wanamaker, Economist at the University of Tennessee said.

In April, the U.S. economy added more than 260,000 jobs. 

That's much fewer than the one million jobs economists predicted.

The national unemployment rate rose to 6.1%, up from 6% a month earlier.

"You can see people are going back to work, but just not at the rate that you would expect to see," Wanamaker said.

For more than a year, the federal government has added an extra $300 per week in addition to state unemployment. 

Now, the state of Tennessee and at least 18 others will pull out of the program this summer.

Other trends include women leaving the workforce to stay home and take care of children and some potential job seekers avoiding catching COVID-19. 

"A lot of what you see is uncertainty...A lot of workers are concerned about what they will see or experience in the next few months," Wanamaker said.

For now, there is uncertainty for both workers and owners.

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