There’s a silent shutdown surge culminating across America following President Biden’s vaccine mandate on businesses coupled with staffing shortages after government shutdowns and enhanced federal unemployment benefits that only recently ended.
"Damn this pandemic and the situation we were put in. Business has been off considerably, but the hardest part being the inability to find staff to hire. Despite paying more than any restaurant I am aware of, no one wants to work," owner of Bubbalou's Bodacious Bar-B-Que, Boo McKinnon, wrote on Facebook last Saturday after she locked the doors of her Winter Park, Florida, restaurant location for the last time.
McKinnon is not alone. Other restaurants and businesses are now struggling to keep the doors open, with some citing hesitancy over vaccine requirements and owners simply unable to find workers after more than a year of unemployment benefits from the federal government.
"Certainly, it’s exacerbating the situation," Philippe Massoud, owner and chef at Ilili and Ilili Box in New York City, said of workers leaving their jobs last month due to a vaccine mandate. "We hope they’ll change their mind down the line. … In addition to all that you’re dealing with the surge of the delta variant, which also creates its own complexity. So, we’re getting hit a bit from everywhere."
The threat of vaccine mandates hampering the ability of restaurants to hire has been simmering for months now, with restaurant owners warning in August that encouraging vaccines instead of enforcing them could help keep workers in their jobs.
"We’ve decided to encourage, versus mandate, vaccinations," David Barr, who owns 44 KFC and Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop franchise locations in Alabama and Georgia, told CNBC in August. "Both because of the tight labor force today — we don’t desire to lose potentially another 20 to 30% of our employees — and just from a policy standpoint of looking to D.C. or the statehouse as to what the policy should be regarding vaccines."
But on Sept. 9, President Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees, requiring vaccinations or weekly coronavirus testing, which affects as many as 100 million Americans. Employers who break the rules could face fines of $14,000 per violation.
One poll published this week has already found that 72% of unvaccinated workers said they would quit their jobs if they aren’t offered an exemption from vaccine mandates.
Biden has also come under fire from small business owners who say his vaccine mandate is proof he is not in their corner fighting for their survival.
"I don’t think they’re [the Biden administration] on the small business side—I think they’re on someone else’s side," said Sharpness, Inc. President Jerry Akers, who owns 36 "Great Clips" franchise locations, Monday on "The Faulkner Focus."
"What more can we handle? What more can a small business absorb with everything that’s been going on in the last two years?" Akers asked.
Meanwhile, restaurants across the nation have closed their doors or tightened operating hours, saying they have been fighting a losing battle since lockdowns last year.
"It is with great sadness we are announcing that Colonel's Kitchen is permanently closing at the end of September. This has been a very difficult decision," restaurant Colonel's Kitchen in northern Kentucky posted on Facebook Thursday. "The restaurant business is challenging in the best of times, which these certainly are not. We've struggled for over a year and it's time that we stop fighting a losing battle."
One economist said that federal unemployment benefits that only dried up this month have added to staffing woes for businesses, and "increased unemployment and forced many businesses to close."
"One of the most well-known facts in labor economics is that higher unemployment benefits increase unemployment," economist Thomas Hogan, of the American Institute for Economic Research, told Fox News. "One reason it's hard for businesses to find workers is that the government is literally paying people not to work."
The federal unemployment benefits that had been giving people $300 extra every week and ended on Labor Day, leaving an estimated 7.5 million people cut off from three relief programs that were first created in March 2020 and later renewed twice by Congress.
Biden even urged states with high unemployment last month to use leftover stimulus funds to extend pandemic unemployment programs, but no states have answered his call.
"It should be noted here that no state is extending this benefit beyond September 4th," Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press briefing on Aug. 30. "It would cost at current at least $314 million per week and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars more."
Hogan said that as the benefits expired, "we should see more workers returning to the labor force, which will enable the ongoing economic recovery."
But nearly two weeks after the federal programs ended, businesses across the nation are still reporting a struggle to hire workers and are shuttering.
In Georgia, a burrito chain temporarily closed after all the staff quit, citing they worked seven days a week for a month. In Colorado Springs, a Dunkin’ location temporarily shuttered because it can’t find workers, and a restaurant in the Central Wisconsin Airport, The Blind Rooster Kitchen + Bar, was recently forced to scale back its seating areas because of a staffing shortage.
"We just can't get people to work," Alex Apodaca, chief operating officer at JB Partners, an Arizona-based franchisee that manages seven Dunkin' stores in the Colorado Springs area.
Other businesses have also lamented that they just can’t find workers right now.
"The people I have are great," Al Cohen, of Big Al's Super Values Store in Maine. "But I’m short five full-timers and five part-timers I had two years ago. And as a result, instead of being open 11 and a half hours today I’m open eight hours a day, which is a major loss of revenue."
Now, after 35 years in business, he is shuttering the store, citing the rise of online shopping and an increase in government regulations.
"It’s the right thing to do, but it’s very sad. I built the ship, and the ship has been sailing great. All of a sudden I don’t have a crew to run the ship, so it’s time for the next chapter in my life," Cohen said.
Small businesses aren't the only ones bleeding employees in recent days.
"The thought of getting the vaccine now is absolutely terrifying," Keaira Notebaert, a registered nurse in New York who is about 19 weeks pregnant told the Democrat & Chronicle. Notebaert wants to wait until she’s at least 30 weeks pregnant to get the vaccine after suffering a miscarriage last year. She doesn’t want to take any risks during this pregnancy.
Notebaert was then faced with the choice of getting the vaccine by Sept. 27 or losing her job at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital.
Other nurses have resigned over a vaccine mandate, including some in a maternity ward at a hospital in upstate New York, forcing the hospital to temporarily halt all baby deliveries after Sept. 24.
U.S. health officials and the Biden administration are urging Americans to get the vaccine, with Biden saying last week that it's imperative people get the shot to protect themselves and everyone around them.
"This is not about freedom or personal choice," Biden said last Thursday while addressing the nation. "It's about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love. My job as president is to protect all Americans."