By Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4)– Colorado has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 8.4%, but many officials believe the only way to bring the number down is through vaccination, fewer COVID cases and reduction of pandemic restrictions.

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“We have a lot of industries that are not only back to work but have stayed at work through all of this. But there are definitely industries that are completely dependent on in-person and I think a lot of those are waiting for that vaccine and distribution like restaurants and hotels,” said Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “The activity we’re looking for is the confidence. People coming back together and spending money but also employers being able to rehire those employees that have had to file for unemployment.”

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James Galindo spent nearly a year on unemployment after leaving his job as a server at a restaurant in Denver.

“Pre-pandemic it was pack everyone in like sardines and make every dime you can, but it started to get kind of nerve wracking,” He said.

Since June, he’s been looking for work with more protection from the virus than a restaurant allows.

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“I applied for pretty much anything and everything that I could that was less of a risk than a restaurant which was a wide variety of things. Trying to focus on more of the customer service side of things because that’s what I do have a history in,” Galindo said.

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The industries that revolve around restaurants or tourism and hospitality are believed to be the cause of much of Colorado’s unemployment. Bridging the skills gap for restaurant workers like Galindo with the many jobs in Colorado has been difficult.

Galindo starts a new job on Monday where he will work from home. He feels safe from the virus, but the pay won’t come close to what he was used to.

“It’s definitely less than I used to make as a server and it’s kind of a step back down,” he said.

Experts like Brough believe consumer confidence can quickly bring Colorado’s dormant industries back to life.

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“Our underlying economics are good. We have a good economy; probably the best workforce in the nation, in terms of meeting our needs and being able to grow our economy and be successful,” she said. “I do think you’re starting to see more activity simply because we know how to do this better and smarter than we have for the past year.”

Jeff Todd