COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Central Ohio economists have a growing concern over a lack of job growth in the state in recent months, with September’s reports showing the unemployment rate staying steady at four percent.

Economists said this means jobs are not being filled where they are desperately needed in industries like hospitality or education.

Ben Ayers, a senior economist with Nationwide, said he blames this on the lack of supply, meaning people are either leaving these industries for others or leaving the workforce altogether.

“We certainly are seeing that wages are up in many sectors, but in particular, the sectors that are having the hardest time finding workers,” Ayers said. “It’s a supply-demand imbalance where there aren’t as many workers looking to work in the hospitality sector, so because of that, the wages are rising quite rapidly.”

Ayers said this has been a domino effect since the pandemic hit industries like hospitality and education the hardest, forcing employers to become more competitive.

“I think we are seeing that many employers are trying to keep up and help out their workers, but I think it is more of the lack of supply in the market that is pushing up wages,” Ayers said. “You would like to pay a lower wage, but you can’t find anyone that wants to work at that wage. So, you are having to raise those wages to draw more people in.”

Ayers said September was the first decline in jobs the state has seen in a year and predicts there will be a positive jump in the coming months, but it will be gradual.

The Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA) said the dual problem of missing workers and inflation is hitting the industry hard.

“What’s unique to the restaurant industry is, at the same time those wages have gone way up, food costs are up at a 41-year high,” said John Barker, ORA president and CEO. “So, you’ve got that double whammy of the two things that are most costly inside a restaurant.”

Barker said they are down around 20,000 workers in Ohio restaurants.

“We are seeing most restaurants even starting people well above minimum wage and if you start talking about our fine dining restaurants, our casual dining restaurants, they are way above where they were, 30 to 40 percent just over a year ago,” Barker said. “So wages are way up, which is good for some parts of the economy and good for those workers, but it puts a lot of pressure on the restaurants to be able to afford that even if they can get people to work for them.”

Barker said due to the rising wages and food costs, some restaurants in Ohio are not breaking even. This puts pressure on businesses, particularly small businesses, with some taking a hit on the backend in order to keep up.

Barker said fine dining is doing really well and independent restaurants have been impacted the most. He said fast-casual restaurants are turning to technology to replace the workers they can’t hire.

“Everything from the apps that you can order your food through to so many of our big chains today, like, you talk about Roosters,” Barker said. “They have the ability if they want to use that technology and to be able to use that whole ecosystem.”

Barker said the ORA is working with restaurants to implement that technology which could help keep business afloat. He said any restaurant owners looking for assistance can contact the organization.

He asks everyone in central Ohio to continue to eat out and support their favorite restaurants during this tough time.