No Employees? How Small Businesses Are Being Affected by the Employee Shortage.

Small businesses are the backbone of the community.

Providing jobs, economic development and character to neighborhoods, the more than 28 million small businesses account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales. Nationwide, the number of small businesses has grown by 49 percent since 1982, per the U.S. Small Business Administration. Since the onset of the coronavirus, small businesses have been disproportionately affected. Now, just off the heels of a pandemic, owners are coping with employee shortages.  


Business owners across the country were met with unforeseen hurdles due to the pandemic. While some small businesses have been forced to close their doors permanently, others have barely been able to stay afloat. Those lucky to have survived the pandemic are now faced with a new dilemma — running a business with limited staff. Affecting everything from food availability to the customer service experience, the pandemic’s effect and the shortage of employees in businesses is causing major issues for small business owners. 


“We don’t have enough employees to extend our hours so we’re still on the restricted hours. People don’t want to work because they are making more money at home with unemployment. Now with these rates, we’re small businesses, we can only pay so much,” says Chef Musheya Glenn, owner, operator and chef of Detroit Taco Bar and Pasta Bowl on the city’s west side.  


Information published by Track the Recovery, an economic tracker used to measure the effects on businesses due to the pandemic, reveals that since January 2020 small businesses across Michigan have shrunk by 50 percent. Since May 2021, the employment rate for workers who are categorized in the bottom wage quartile fell by almost 29 percent. Although businesses are looking for the help, employers have not been able to remain fully staffed.  


“People are coming in and they want $16 to $18 dollars per hour and they say ‘Taco Bell is paying this’ and I have to let them know those are big corporations. They’re on every corner. I am a stand-alone, small, mom and pop restaurant. There is no way I can pay that,” says Nicole Christian, owner of Burger Grille.  

Open since 2017, the Burger Grille has, like many other small businesses, suffered during the pandemic. At full staff, the small carry-out style restaurant can have up to six employees. With just three, performing at half-staff is taxing on its remaining workforce. The owner is determined not to overwork them.  


“At times I’ve closed for a week to give my staff that are working with me, and myself, that time to relax and try to get an understanding and a better grip on things. I can’t overwork the staff that I have. It’s just extremely hard,” says Christian.  


The Burger Grille has also had its menu affected by the price jumps caused by the pandemic. Already working limited hours, the business is facing food shortages.  


“Every day it’s something going up. We are a burger restaurant and our beef is fresh. It’s halal beef, chicken and turkey. Before the pandemic, I was paying $20 for a one-pound bag of chicken tenders. Now, I’m paying almost $45 dollars,” says Christian. 


Although federal loans and grants were offered to small businesses, a variety of deciding factors determined amount and eligibility. While some small businesses did receive the aid, there was still difficulty in keeping doors open.   


As the federal government continues to lend aid to the unemployed and financially devastated, business owners are in steady competition with assistance. Often bringing home more money than working a standard 9 to 5 schedule, workers are opting to stay home. 


“We can only pay so much. We can’t compare or compete with the amount that the unemployment is doing unless you’re full-time. We can do that with certain employees, but not every employee,” says Chef Glenn.  


Michigan’s Governor is stepping in to show small businesses across the state how their impact affects communities. Showing resilience and perseverance, Governor Whitmer sent personalized letters to 200 small business owners who stepped up during the pandemic and refused to let COVID-19 force a dream to end.  


“I am completely in awe of the resilience and determination of Michigan’s small businesses to stand strong and push forward during such unprecedented times,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer is quoted as saying in a press release. “Small businesses are crucial to the success of our economy, and we are more than ready to get back on track and uplift our local entrepreneurs to continue to make this state a great place to work and live.” 


Looking to help support small businesses as they bounce back from the financial restraints of the pandemic, the governor also launched a help site for small businesses looking to come out of the pandemic better than ever. The governor is also planning a $300 million investment to uplift small businesses through the Michigan Mainstreet Initiative.  




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