- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The message is clear on storefront marquees, brightly colored banners and the handwritten signs taped by merchants inside windows across this battered city: Businesses reopening after Hurricane Katrina have a surplus of jobs and not enough workers to fill them.

The shortage is obvious at the city’s fanciest hotels, where a lack of staff means maid service is offered just once a week. It is just as glaring at fast-food restaurants, where long lines of cars snake through parking lots because most have only enough workers to operate drive-through windows.

It is virtually impossible to pass through any functioning part of town without seeing “Now Hiring” posted somewhere.

“Two months ago if you were looking for a job, it probably wasn’t that easy,” said Darren Aucoin, manager of a Shoe Carnival store in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb that experienced minimal flooding and was relatively quick to get power and water restored. “Now if you can’t find a job, you’re not trying.”

Burger King, which first reopened its New Orleans restaurants by busing kitchen crews about 80 miles from Baton Rouge, has taken the unprecedented step of offering $6,000 bonuses to hourly employees agreeing to work full time for at least a year in the metropolitan area.

Most of the people who have been able to return to New Orleans have been either wealthy or in the middle class, in part because their neighborhoods were damaged the least — leaving a hole for business owners who depend on unskilled labor.

“The service industry and unskilled labor jobs are the ones really in demand and the people in that category have not come back,” said John Trapani, a professor and vice dean at Tulane University’s business school. “There will be a shortage of labor until population starts to return, and who knows what percentage is going to return and when?”

Services businesses’ demand for workers is set against a parallel demand for people to work in hurricane cleanup.

One of those looking for workers is Rolf Howard, the general manager at Applebee’s, which is operating with half its normal staff despite sales that have more than doubled since the storm.

Mr. Howard was able to reopen a week after Katrina, but many of his employees relocated and couldn’t return because there was no place to live. To fill in behind them, Mr. Howard said, he no longer can afford to be picky.

“We’re not even being super-selective. We can’t afford to. We are literally hiring every day,” he said.

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