YARMOUTH, Mass. — Scott Gustufson is the backbone of America’s tourism economy. Without him or people like him, it is impossible to cope with the lunchtime rush at Captain Parker’s Pub on Cape Cod.
“I’ve been here over 30 years,” Gustufson said between taking orders on a recent spring afternoon.
Like so many seasonal workers across the country right now, Gustufson has a problem. He has lots of shifts, but no place to call home. The rental house he lived in last year was recently sold, leaving this server looking for affordable housing.
“It’s brutal, brutal,” he lamented.
Captain Parker’s Pub is located in Yarmouth, Mass, a seasonal Cape Cod community that, like so many towns and cities, relies heavily on the tourism industry to survive. With masses of Americans relocating to work remotely, housing prices here are sky high. Many seasonal workers are seeing their rental homes sold under them.
“With the market being what it is and people selling their homes, it’s been really hard to find things,” Gustufson said.
The owner of this Cape Cod summer staple is Gerry Manning. He’s been in business since 1981, but the 72-year-old says the summer of 2021 was one of his worst. Not because sales were down, but because of a severe staff shortage.
“We were crushed, we were really crushed,” Manning said.
Warmer days are on the horizon, which means Manning is starting to build up his summer staff roster. Almost like a baseball team preparing for the season, it is always short of key positions like cooks and servers.
At the national level, we are once again fighting to find seasonal workers.
Summer fun in the United States depends on foreign and seasonal workers to operate. Restaurant and hotel staff are largely dependent on international workers visiting the J-1 and H-2B visa programs. Last month, responding to increased demand for temporary workers, the Biden administration announced it would add 35,000 more visas available to American companies to hire foreign workers before the next summer months.
Paul Niedzwiecki is a member of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and is grateful for these additional visas. But he always comes back to the issue of housing when he talks about the current labor shortage.
“There really need to be policy changes,” he said.
Until affordable housing needs are met, labor shortages continue to plague seasonal communities like Cape Cod, he said. But never mind the summer labor and tourists are on their way.
“It’s going to be busy again,” Gustufson said.