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Spokane businesses are hiring but many can't find employees. An economist explains why

Spokane companies in the hospitality industry, including Davenport Hotels and Treehouse Food Deliveries, are facing employee shortages. Here's why it's happening.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Job postings appear to be around every corner in Spokane but employers in the city's hospitality industry say it has been difficult to fill their openings. Davenport Hotels is just one company that's searching for dozens of employees.

"It's been challenging finding...associates to come either back to work or new associates to come and work at the Davenport," said Matt Jensen, who serves as Director of Sales and Marketing for Davenport Hotels. 

All Davenport hotels and restaurants are feeling the effects of the employee shortage, Jensen said. Right now, the company is looking to hire jobseekers for about 75 management and hourly positions. Jensen said he doesn't think Davenport Hotels has experienced a challenge like this in his 19 years of employment with the company. 

To combat the employee shortage, Davenport Hotels has created incentives for those in search of work —  such as increasing its hourly wage to about $15/hour and offering a signing bonus. 

But the company isn't the only one in Spokane that is struggling to hire. Treehouse Food Deliveries is experiencing a driver shortage that led the company to temporarily stop service.

"Once we get the driver pool up, we can start increasing our restaurant presence after that," Treehouse owner Neil Holford said.

Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista, said the employee shortage is a national trend impacting industries with low pay rates. 

Forsyth said it does not appear that unemployment benefits are impacting Americans' drive to work. This is based on academic research reviewed by the Federal Reserve, he said. It found that unemployment insurance benefits are too small and too short-lived to make people give up a return-to-work offer. 

There are still some cases, though, where people are not returning to work because their unemployment benefits are paying more than their previous job, Forsyth said. But it's not the only driving factor behind the employee shortage.

"You have childcare issues that are lingering out there —  I think that's holding a lot of people back from entering the labor force —  and you have risk aversion," he said.

Katelynn Harper is an unemployed single mom in Spokane who is searching for work, but she has not accepted any positions because the pay would not cover the cost of childcare or there are no childcare openings due to capacity restrictions. 

"I think a huge, huge help to our economy would be helping out parents, and helping daycares or opening up daycares," Harper said.

"If I didn't have to worry about daycare, and if they care was reasonably priced. I would absolutely be working," she added. 

Meanwhile, Forsyth is optimistic businesses will not struggle to hire people for long.

"I think people could be really interested in those jobs again, if you get COVID really under control," he said. "People having confidence that if they do a public-facing job, there's less personal risk involved, and also that we get COVID under control so we can get back to...normalizing the childcare sector, normalizing K-12 again."