US restaurants raise salaries in attempt to attract workers

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U.S. restaurants and stores are rapidly raising pay in an urgent effort to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as the pandemic eases.

McDonald’s, Sheetz and Chiptole are just some of the latest companies to follow Amazon, Walmart and Costco in boosting wages, in some cases to $15 an hour or higher.

The pay gains are, of course, a boon to these employees. Restaurants, bars, hotels and stores remain the lowest-paying industries, and many of their workers ran the risk of contracting Covid-19 on the job over the past year while white-collar employees were able to work from home.

Still, the pay increases could contribute to higher inflation if companies raise prices to cover the additional labor costs. Some businesses, however, could absorb the costs or invest over time in automation to offset higher wages.

States and cities are easing business restrictions as COVID-19 deaths and cases plummet, and in places like Florida, Nevada, and Texas, restaurant traffic is above or near pre-pandemic levels, according to OpenTable, a software provider to the industry.

Many companies say they are struggling to find workers.

“Customers are coming back faster than restaurants can staff up,” said Josh Bivens, research director at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “By raising pay, they are able to get more workers in the door.”

In April, even as overall hiring slowed, a category that includes restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues hired more new workers than it did the previous month, a sign the extra pay is working.

McDonald’s on Thursday said it will raise pay for workers in its 650 company-owned stores to an average of $15 an hour by 2024. Entry-level employees will make $11 an hour. The company is urging its 14,000 franchised restaurants to make the same changes.

Also on Thursday, Amazon said it will pay new hires $17 an hour, as it seeks to add 75,000 new workers. The online giant said it is offering a $100 bonus for new hires who have been vaccinated.

And Sheetz, a mid-Atlantic convenience store chain, said Monday it is giving its 18,000 employees a $2-an-hour raise and an additional $1 an hour for the summer.

Across the restaurant industry, the pay gains have largely returned overall wages to the same growth trend they were on before the pandemic, Bivens said. He expects the increases to climb above that trend in the coming months.

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