In just one year, Ohio lost nearly 25% of its servers at restaurants across the state and recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Cleveland nonprofit Ohio Policy Matters show the leisure and hospitality industries aren't on track to get many of those workers back.
At Stricker's Grove, a 97-year-old family-run amusement park in Ross, Ohio, staffing on any given day can be a roller coaster.
"This is probably, as far as labor goes, the worst we've experienced it," said Pamela Stricker, the park's co-owner.
She and other family have been working in various spaces in the park themselves as Stricker's Grove struggles to keep the full park staffed. There are typically enough workers to run rides for every private event, but staffing the games and golf areas when the park opens to the public four times a year sometimes involves a scramble.
"Sometimes I work at the front gate, sometimes I work at miniature golf," said Stricker.
The park hopes to build bonds with workers through offers like free drinks all day and creating a welcoming family-like environment. It's worked for loyal employee Kathy King, a retired Hamilton math teacher who works part time at the park. She and other die-hard employees are the few who returned after the park was shut down in 2020.
"It's just ... my happy place," said King. "It's nice to see both kids and adults have a good time and laugh and smile."
The steady rise in unfilled job openings are charted in statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Mirroring that data, Ohio Policy Matters released a Labor Day report showing the leisure and hospitality industry made up 28% of all the state's jobs destroyed during the pandemic.
The Strickers haven't given up hope, however, and they believe what lies ahead will be better. Most of the park's private-event clients plan to re-book for events next year and owners hope by then staffing will be closer to normal.