As companies struggle to hire, here’s why these three women say they can’t return to work
Jessica Bober, at the moment, is not in the workforce.
She was put on leave from her job as a makeup artist at a department store in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey and her store closed.
Soon after, she got pregnant.
She was called back to work in the fall of 2020, but after a few weeks a medical issue related to her pregnancy sent her home. She and her husband depended on her income.
It would be temporary, they thought, and the couple had a plan. Bober’s mother-in-law agreed to retire so she can keep the baby after the baby is born in December 2020, and Bober would return to work. But then both of her in-laws got COVID, and as a “long haul,” her step-dad now needed a full-time babysitter.
Bober’s child care option was gone.
“The cheapest daycare I could find was $ 400 to $ 500 per week for my child’s age, and in retail I don’t earn much more than that after tax,” a- she said, noting that they were earning on her husband’s income. , but it wasn’t enough to cover rent, credit card debt and other bills, as well as a baby’s new expenses. “I want to work. The point is, we can’t survive without affordable and safe child care.
Another problem was looming. In her work with the public, Bober, who is fully vaccinated, feared bringing COVID home.
“I didn’t feel safe going back to work because I couldn’t immunize my baby,” she said.
Bober isn’t the only one worried, as businesses of all kinds have struggled to attract people to take vacancies.
Employers have increased hourly wages and salaries, added signing bonuses and other benefits to try to attract new workers, often without success. Even though extended unemployment benefits ended in early September, “Help Wanted” signs persist throughout New Jersey.
Posts on several Facebook pages devoted to unemployment show that unemployed people are frustrated when they hear companies complain about not finding employees, suggesting they are lazy or happy to live off unemployment benefits.
It is not that simple, say the unemployed, many of whom saw their benefits stop at the beginning of September. And women have been particularly affected, according to the unemployed and experts, as they often take on the primary role of caregivers of children and other loved ones. They say a lack of support has made it difficult to return to the workforce.
Other workers say they can’t find full-time work in their field. Or they can only find part-time or low-paying jobs, with several claiming that even though companies like McDonald’s pay $ 15 an hour, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get enough shifts. work to make ends meet. Older people claim age discrimination, although they admit that it is difficult to prove. Others, like Bober, fear bringing COVID home to young children who are not vaccinated or other vulnerable family members.
And like Bober, many say they can’t afford babysitting.
Governor Phil Murphy got into the incentive game last week with a new program called “Come Back and Win”. It will add a $ 500 sign-up bonus for eligible employees and offer companies up to $ 10,000 in funds to help train and pay new workers.
But is it enough to make a difference?
“It will inevitably attract some people to the workforce, but the pandemic has shown us that financial incentives are only part of the problem,” said Stacy Hawkins, associate dean and professor at Rutgers Law School. “I don’t think it’s just throwing money at the problem. There are other structural issues.
She said women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic because they are the primary caregivers, not only for children but for other family members.
“They are not treated with economic incentives. They need child care and flexibility, ”Hawkins said. “We have to deal with the fact that women in particular have structural barriers when it comes to being caregivers. “
She said it was not surprising that some of the employers who have the most difficulty finding workers were restaurants and other front-line businesses, which Hawkins called “high-risk jobs.” Even though workers are vaccinated, they don’t want to bring COVID home to children who are still too young to get vaccinated, she said.
Hawkins said the pandemic has caused a lot of people to reimagine what work should be like, and they don’t like what they see.
“People’s expectations for everyday face-to-face sex have changed,” Hawkins said. “With the economy of odd jobs, people are realizing it. Outside of some creative professions, people see (big jobs) as a bridge until they find something else.
At the moment, working in concert is the only choice for Christina Fontaine of Tuckerton. She said she would like to work full time, but after being infected with COVID, her 27-year-old body couldn’t take it, she said.
Before the pandemic, she worked as a door-to-door salesperson. Her job ended in March 2020, and she was able to receive unemployment benefits for several months as a self-employed entrepreneur.
But her benefits unexpectedly ended in October 2020 when she started having problems with her application, she said.
“I received a letter in the mail saying that I was no longer eligible, which was not true because anyone who was working the same job as me could claim it without a problem,” she said. , noting that she immediately filed an appeal. “I never had an appeal date or a court meeting. Around this time, I caught COVID and was sick and bedridden for months. “
Although she was not hospitalized and is now fully vaccinated, Fontaine said her health is a constant struggle, with chronic fatigue and immune problems. She’s had a few odd jobs as a freelance graphic designer and as a dog sitter, but it’s not enough, she said. She couldn’t get unemployment to review her case and she thinks she owes around $ 20,000 in benefits back.
“I barely scratched,” Fontaine said. “The stress has been immeasurable. I’ve been late on almost every bill and will likely be behind on rent for the third month in a row. I have overdue payments on electricity, the Internet, auto insurance, telephone, and credit cards.
“My fridge is the emptyest it has ever been. I am in pain, ”she said.
There are other reasons people haven’t returned to work, said Altair Gobo, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield. He calls it “complicated”.
While some stay home because of fear of infection, vaccination mandates can also be a deterrent for some, he said.
“This could create additional hesitation among potential employees who might want to return to work but are not yet vaccinated,” he said.
And then there is the issue of possible school closures as infections among students are on the rise, he said.
“If the children go back to school full time, it will allow the parents who have stayed at home with them to go out and look for a job,” he said. “But that could be a big unknown for a while until we are able to determine the outcome of the COVID variants. “
For Aimee Hernandez, it all depends on childcare.
She says she looks for a job every day, hoping to get a home-based job, but none of them have worked.
“The jobs I’ve studied want you to have a space in your house where you can keep the door closed, away from distractions. How can you do that with a three year old? Hernandez, 40, asked as her three-year-old daughter shouted “Mum!” background. “He’s not going to be silent for an eight-hour shift in a row. “
Ironically, Hernandez worked in a childcare service, so she received a big discount to have her child come with him. But now, said the Branchville woman, affordable care cannot be found. Even if she could find him, she didn’t think her child would keep his mask on as required.
“I would be afraid of losing my new job because I had to pick up my son from daycare and then I would be back to square one,” she said.
New Jersey offers child care assistance through the NJ Child Care Assistance program, Murphy’s office said, but it has income and other eligibility requirements. There was another program that provided funding for care related to distance learning, but that was only for the 2020-2021 school year.
“(The NJ Child Care Assistance program) is not limited to the needs of COVID,” said spokeswoman Alexandra Altman.
Bober, the makeup artist and new mom, said she freelances when her stepmother can watch the baby, but it wasn’t enough.
To make ends meet, she and her husband decided to move from their Orange apartment to her in-laws’ house in Florham Park. The move will help with the care of the children and they, in turn, will be able to help take care of his stepfather. And maybe, save some money.
Bober does not know when she will be able to work full time again. She said she recently interviewed for a home customer service position, but it didn’t work.
“I want to work and I enjoy the time when I can work,” she said. “But at this point you have to do what you have to do.”
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Karin Price Mueller can be contacted at [email protected]com.