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Initial unemployment claims take double-digit drop as restaurants see some bright spots in hiring

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BATON ROUGE - Restaurateur Stephen Hightower says he's seen a significant improvement recently in what had been a Herculean effort to find workers.

"We've been able to bring in some great talent over the past couple [of] weeks," Hightower said. "It's a sign of hope."

That hope may not be on the menu at Hightower's Rouj Creole, but it is beginning to seep its way back into the dining room.

Hightower says across his restaurants, the new workers are trending younger. Other restaurants tell WBRZ that college students off for summer have helped fill some staffing gaps.

And some roles remain difficult to fill.

"Our biggest need right now is still getting good, quality cooks back in the kitchen," Hightower said. "You know, kitchen labor has been the hardest to grab."

The hope Hightower is feeling is also showing up in the state's unemployment data.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, initial weekly unemployment claims dropped from 5,242 to 4,278 for the week ending June 19, an 18% decrease.

During the same week last year, as Louisiana experienced a summer surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, new claims were nearly five times higher, approaching 20,000.

Initial claims have dropped steadily each week for the last month, and Hightower said he still isn't able to hire at the pace he would like to.

That's where his hope comes in -- hope for a growing pool of interested potential employees and the state's discontinuation of federal unemployment enhancement in about a month.

"I hope it's a spigot that turns on because we desperately need more and more people to work," Hightower said. "Right now, we have a lot of committed employees that are, you know, working overtime, doing everything they can to help us out."

More applications coming in and more interviews happening over the last two weeks, allow Hightower, and his overworked employees, a sigh of relief as they look to the future.

Continued unemployment claims for the week of June 19 ticked up slightly, from 49,355 the week of June 12, to 49,503. The same week in 2020 saw 300,389 continued claims.

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