Days after the State Fair of Texas opened its gates to the thousands of fairgoers in search of deep-fried foods, even the fair’s most iconic vendors are still struggling to staff up.
Speaking with Fox Business, the owners of Fernie’s Funnel Cakes, which has sold the popular treat at the State Fair of Texas for more than 50 years, said that they have still not hired enough staff to meet customer demand. That sentiment was echoed by other longtime vendors, like Jack Pyland of Jack’s French Frys, who said that he was short by 100 workers when the fair opened on Friday, September 24.
State Fair of Texas vendors are, of course, not the only ones struggling to hire right now. The restaurant industry has faced a staffing shortage for months, as have other sectors like retail and healthcare. Put simply, practically everyone is struggling to hire right now, and it’s no surprise that fact applies to the State Fair.
Back in June, the State Fair of Texas announced that it would create temporary jobs for 7,000 workers, many of whom would work directly for food and beverage vendors like Fernie’s. In an effort to stave off the staffing shortage, the Fair announced that it would raise pay by more than $1 from the 2019 event, to $12.38 per hour. Still, that increase is only about half of the hourly wage required to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Dallas, which is $26.
That rate only applies to those who work directly for the State Fair of Texas, while individual concessionaires, who hire the almost all food and beverage workers at the State Fair of Texas, can set their own lower or higher pay. Even if concessions vendors are offering workers $12.38 per hour, that wage is still much lower than the $15 to $18 per hour that some restaurants are advertising to potential new hires, along with signing and referral bonuses potentially worth hundreds of dollars.
The Fair also requires that all of its workers are fully vaccinated, which is a good idea in theory, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that most of the people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 are low-wage workers who are less able to take time off to get the vaccine or recover from potential side effects.
It seems especially obvious, actually, that the State Fair of Texas’s food vendors would struggle to hire right now. The fair lasts only 24 days, making it economically untenable for a large segment of workers. Why would a qualified food service worker agree to take a job that will last for less than a month when there are dozens of restaurants across the city that are offering permanent jobs, higher pay, and sometimes, benefits?
There’s also no health insurance available to seasonal workers, who would put themselves at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 while frying up corn dogs and funnel cakes at the fair. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible for these workers to pay medical bills they might incur after battling a potentially deadly virus with extra fair coupons that they find on the ground once all the customers leave for the night.
These types of sob stories, from hard-working small business owners who are just looking for a hand, do very little to actually improve the plight of those entrepreneurs or the workers they seek. Instead, it furthers a harmful narrative that insists that workers who would normally fill these jobs are sitting at home on their asses collecting government checks instead of working for a living. That lie has been thoroughly disproven.
The next time you hear a State Fair vendor — or any business owner, for that matter — complaining about not being able to hire good workers, ask them how much they pay. Ask what benefits they plan to offer. Ask if their employees have access to paid time-off, sick leave, and workman’s compensation benefits. If the answers to all those questions are no, then the workers aren’t the problem. The job is.