NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville is booming.
For the first time in decades, there are more job openings than unemployed people in the U.S. and employers are finding it hard to fill open slots.
But some say faster growth is paying off for those working in minimum wage climates, like convenience stores or fast food.
News 2 is taking a closer look into the lower paying jobs that seemingly never get filled.
We started at Peg Leg Porker, where we found Sonny Barbary, a busy body, and model worker for the busy place.
At the same time every day, Sonny heads to Peg Leg Porker. It’s a place he, like so many others, considers home.
“If you want a job, we try and give you a chance,” Barbary said.
But for Barbary, the job is more than another day, another dollar. For him, it’s another chance at life.
“My life just changed so much miraculously in these four years that I’ve been working here,” Barbary said. “I was homeless, just a recovering addict getting off drugs and alcohol trying to get my life back together.”
Of course, he’s happy to keep Peg Leg running, even as other employees were running out the door.
“So many people work here for like three days,” Barbary said.
The owner, Carey Bringle said generally the turnover is new hires. They work for a month and walk out.
Bringle currently has eight open positions that need to be filled. “We’re lucky we have a fairly high retention rate of our core staff. We do, however, get turnover.”
Peg Leg Porker is just one of many places in Nashville struggling to find and keep employees. Rose Arnold, of Arnold’s Country Kitchen, said it’s something her restaurant is facing.
“We’ve offered incentive programs,” Bringle said. “We’ve offered bonuses to bring somebody who’ll stay for more than 90 days.”
He mentioned that there are all kinds of ways to try and recruit people. “Just these days it’s such a shortage of people that it’s tough,” he said.
News 2 spoke to Andy Puzder, author and former chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants who said though it is problematic for employers, it’s great for employees.
The economy is booming, meaning wages are up.
“For restaurant workers, wages increased 4.7 percent in April, rising for the eighth consecutive month at or above four percent,” Puzder said.
Barbary said the wages at Peg Leg are good, but if you go to other restaurants, that’s not the case.
“They’re starting you off at $8, $9 an hour. How can you afford to live here when the minimum on the rent here now is $1,500?” he asked.
Bringle said with tips, many of his employees make close to $15 an hour, but for some, it’s still not enough.
“I live in Clarksville now. I’ve been living in Nashville my whole life and I got pushed away because it’s not affordable to live here no more,” Barbary said.
“We can’t be the ‘It’ city if we can’t have our employees being able to live in the city,” Bringle said, adding he wants people to know restaurant work is more than just a high school or summer job.
“As more people understand that it can be a viable long-term career and it can be a well-paying career, then we might find more people start coming into it,” Bringle said. “These service jobs need to be filled.”
Puzder said as long as the economy in Nashville keeps growing, the trend will likely continue as employers compete for working-class employees.
The downside to the current trend is there’s a movement toward automation. Large companies are using technology to reduce labor cost that would likely impact large fast food chains.
Another clear downside, employees are having to pay workers more, because it’s a competitive market, which means, prices for consumers go up.
News 2 is digging deeper into the region’s evolving job climate and the opportunities that are coming. Our teams have special reports from Nashville, Clarksville and Murfreesboro as we profile “Nashville 2019: Now Hiring” in every newscast Thursday. We will also have a live town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m.
News 2 is reporting on Nashville’s historic growth and the growing pains that come with it. Click here for more Nashville 2019 reports.