A change on the horizon for fast food

FROM STAFF REPORTS / Editorial 

The COVID-19 pandemic flipped life as we knew it upside down, and some of those effects are still being felt, while others are just now becoming known.

The impact on businesses has long been discussed throughout the pandemic, but the rise back, specifically in the fast food industry, has not.

During the battle against COVID-19, unemployment rates hit record highs but have since returned to the record low numbers we were seeing before the virus with Shelby County now at 1.9 percent after jolting to near 10 percent during the height of the pandemic.

The question, however, is where are those employees working?

Despite the record-low numbers once again, a recent poll showed 92 percent of respondents in Shelby County have noticed a lack of employees at businesses.

Long lines in drive thrus and checkout lines and businesses closing early due to a shortage of employees.

It’s left many sitting at drive thru windows waiting to place an order but never hear a voice, only to pull around and see no one inside or no one working the drive thru despite being open.

At other stores, especially bigger chains in the area, more and more are using self-checkout and less person-to-person contact.

The impact of this isn’t just long lines and disappointment when you find out your favorite place is closed early due to a lack of employees; it also means a shift in the economy.

With the unemployment rate so low across the Birmingham-metro area, people have jobs.

The problem is, many of them are in what they consider better jobs than they had before the pandemic.

After stores and restaurants were forced to lay off employees due to lack of income, many of those who began seeking new jobs looked for better-paying jobs or jobs that gave them more of a career.

In turn, that has led to less looking to return to the food industry, working in retail or for a chain store.

The trickle-down effect has led to employers offering more money, which has led to an increase in the cost of items at many places.

Who knows how long COVID-19 will be around or what the lasting impacts will be, but this emerging issue seems to be one that could be permanent.

Once you pay employees more in those particular fields, it’s tough to take it back, which will in turn shift the economic landscape across all industries moving forward because prices will continue to increase, meaning we will all need more money.

It’s simple economics with differing opinions of right and wrong, but most importantly, we look to be headed to one of the biggest economic shifts of our lifetime all because of a virus.