REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is struggling to hire manufacturing workers for its beer factory and staff members for its restaurants in this coastal area, a shortage that has grown so acute that the company has cut dining room hours and is now offering vintage cases of its 120 Minute India Pale Ale as a signing bonus to new hires.
The company is using its hefty social media presence “to get the bat signal out” and “entice beverage-loving adults” to join the team, Sam Calagione, the company’s founder, said on a steamy afternoon this month at Dogfish’s brewpub, which was already doing brisk business ahead of vacation season.
Economic activity is expected to surge in Delaware and across the country as people who missed 2020 getaways head for vacations and the newly vaccinated spend savings amassed during months at home.
Yet as they race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, employers are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
April labor market report underscored those concerns. Economists expected companies to hire one million people, but data released on Friday showed that they had added only 266,000, even as vaccines became widely available and state and local economies began springing back to life. Many analysts thought labor shortages might explain the disappointment.
Some blame expanded unemployment benefits, which are giving an extra $300 per week through September, for keeping workers at home and hiring at bay. Republican governors in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina moved last week to end the additional benefits for unemployed workers in their states, citing companies’ labor struggles.
President Biden said on Monday that there was no evidence that the benefit was chilling hiring. In remarks at the White House, he said his administration would make clear that any worker who turned down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health concerns related to the coronavirus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. But school closings, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage were playing a larger role in constraining hiring, the president said.
He called on companies to step up by helping workers gain access to vaccines and increasing pay. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said.
In tourist spots like Rehoboth Beach, companies face a shortage of seasonal immigrants, a holdover from a ban enacted last year that has since expired. But the behavior of the area’s businesses, from breweries to the boardwalk, suggests that much of the labor shortage also owes to the simple reality that it is not easy for many businesses simultaneously to go from a standstill to an economic sprint — especially when employers are not sure the new boom will last.
The New York Times visited last year to take the temperature of the labor market, think workers will come flooding back in September, when the more generous unemployment benefits expire.
At least 10 people in and around Rehoboth, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
“Some of them are scared of the coronavirus,” said Alan Bergmann, a resident who said he knew six or seven people who were forgoing work. Mr. Bergmann, 37, was unable to successfully claim benefits because the state authorities said he had earned too little in either Delaware or Pennsylvania — where he was living in the months before the pandemic — to qualify.
Whether it is unemployment insurance, lack of child care or fear of infection that is keeping people home, the perception that the job market is hot is at odds with overall labor numbers. Nationally, payroll employment was down 8.2 million compared with its prepandemic level, and unemployment remained elevated at 6.1 percent in April.