SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Despite job openings, many businesses in the Bay Area are struggling to make new hires.

At Spike’s Coffee and Tea in San Francisco’s Castro District, the manager says he hopes to hire one or two more baristas.

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“Yes, we would really like to hire somebody. No, we are not desperate,” Austin Miller said.

While some people theorized the root of the hiring problem stemmed from people relying on unemployment benefits, that theory doesn’t appear to ring true – especially after the latest jobs report.

“I thought, as most people did, that workers would come back after September 4th when the federal benefits ended. That hasn’t really occurred in any large number,” said Michael Bernick, the former state EDD Director.

While new unemployment claims at the national level have dropped to the lowest number the country has seen since the onset of the pandemic, they actually increased in California.

“The national numbers on unemployment claims went down to about 280,000. That’s the lowest number since the start of the pandemic, but California’s new claims went up to over 80,000,” he said.

And that’s not all.

“The small business economy in California continues to be very, very slow to return. Nationwide, job postings this week are 19% above where they were in January of 2020. In California though, they’re only 2%,” he said.

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Miller says while pandemic-related unemployment may be a factor in the struggle to hire, he doesn’t think it’s the only one.

“Maybe the unemployment played a part, but I would challenge the narrative that it’s just having people sit at home and do nothing. I don’t think that’s really what’s happening,” he said. “You know, if it had been just because of unemployment, we would have a flood of applicants out the door last week because the unemployment spigot is cut off now, so, what is happening?”

Bernick says there isn’t good data out there to explain the root of what’s happening right now, especially because this recovery has a completely different dynamic than of those in years past.

“So far there are a number of theories as to why California workers are slow to return, but we still don’t have strong data,” he said. “People may have been saving during the pandemic, as strange as that seems. They may be slower to return there. Some speculation is, people reconsidering their careers, what they were doing, from the shock of the pandemic.”

Bernick explained companies across the board aren’t experiencing this phenomenon, it’s primarily small businesses with lower paying jobs.

“Employers at mid-and higher-level jobs are having no difficulty in the Bay Area,” he said. “One positive aspect of this slow return to work is that it has driven up wages in lower wage jobs.”

Miller says he dealt with this issue before COVID hit, and thinks the pandemic exacerbated it.

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“It’s really hard to find people who can live and work in that area, and I think a lot of those people are choosing to do something else,” he said.