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How the seasonal worker shortage could impact summer destinations

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Posted at 3:13 PM, Apr 18, 2022

YARMOUTH, Mass. — Scott Gustufson is the backbone of the American tourism economy. Without him or people like him, there is no keeping up with the lunchtime rush at Captain Parker's Pub on Cape Cod.

"I've been here for more than 30 years," Gustufson said in between taking orders on a recent spring afternoon.

Like so many seasonal workers across this country right now, Gustufson has a problem. He has plenty of shifts to work but no place to call home. The rental house he was living in last year was recently sold leaving this server in search of affordable housing.

"It's brutal, brutal," he lamented.

Captain Parker's Pub is located in Yarmouth, Mass, a seasonal community on Cape Cod that like so many cities and towns relies heavily on the tourism industry to survive. With droves of Americans relocating to work remotely, housing prices here are sky-high. Many seasonal workers are having their rental homes sold out from under them.

"With the market being what it is and people selling their homes, it's been very hard to find things," Gustufson said.

The owner of this Cape Cod summertime staple is Gerry Manning. He's been in business since 1981 but this 72-year-old says the summer of 2021 was one of his worst. Not because sales were down but because of severe staffing shortages.

"We were crushed, we were really crushed," Manning said.

Warmer days are on the horizon meaning Manning is starting to build out his summer staffing roster. Almost like a baseball team gearing up for the season, he's still short key positions like cooks and servers.

Nationwide, there is once again a struggle to find seasonal workers.

Summer fun in the US relies on foreign and seasonal workers to function. Restaurant and hotel staffing depends largely on international workers visiting on J-1 and H-2B visa programs. Last month, responding to increased demand for temporary workers, the Biden administration announced it would add an additional 35,000 visas available for American businesses to hire foreign workers ahead of the coming summer months.

Paul Niedzwiecki is with the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and is grateful for those additional visas. But he always goes back to the housing issue when talking about the current labor shortage.

"There really needs to be some policy changes," he said.

Until affordable housing needs are met, labor shortage continues to plague seasonal communities like Cape Cod, he said. But regardless of the workforce summer and tourists are on their way.

"It’s going to be busy again," Gustufson said.