Has COVID caused a job crisis in NJ?
When the pandemic began, Denise Christopher, owner of the commercial cleaning company Attention to Detail Janitorial Services in the Township of The Brick, did not want to send her employees to deal with the company’s accounts due to concerns for their safety. . Instead, she and her business partner provided the company’s disinfection services themselves. Despite this, Christopher said she was able to retain her employees throughout the pandemic.
But now Christopher is struggling to keep up with the demand. In June 2020, she estimated that she was turning down about fifteen potential jobs due to a lack of staff.
“To say it was tough is an understatement,” said Cheryl Taylor, owner of Imagine That !!! play and event space at Florham Park. In March 2020, it was firmly reserved when the pandemic forced it to close from March to July of the same year. In 2021, however, Taylor had to cancel events because she was unable to find employees. Taylor frequently hires younger people for jobs as party hosts. Lately, she said she’s doing everything from hosting parties to setting up online payment processing on the company’s website. “My skills have doubled or tripled,” she joked.
The aftermath of the pandemic
As New Jersey’s COVID restrictions began to ease in the spring of this year, many companies experienced a shortage of residual labor and difficulty bringing back their employees.
According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL), the largest losses in 2020 were in leisure and hospitality, with more than 200,000 jobs lost between February and April 2020. More than 100,000 jobs were lost in each of the trades / transport / utilities and education / health care sectors as well. In May 2021, these industries recovered between 50% and around 70% of the jobs lost.
“What we are seeing is unprecedented,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. Siekerka noted that the hotel industry and other minimum wage jobs and blue collar workers suffered the most from the labor shortage. White-collar companies suffer the side effects of labor shortages in other industries or their employees retreat in favor of more flexible arrangements.
Factors of labor shortage
According to Siekerka, there had already been hiring problems before the pandemic.
“New Jersey was near full employment at the start of 2020, so employers in some industries were citing a shortage of skilled workers before the pandemic began,” said Angela Delli Santi, spokesperson for NJDOL.
Today, Siekerka said there were “tens of thousands of jobs open” and the challenge for employers was “to identify how to develop and retrain” workers.
Siekerka also pointed to the $ 300 per week increase in unemployment benefits provided by federal pandemic relief funds. “There are people who need the federal program,” Siekerka said, but she thinks others can reap the benefits.
Employers Taylor and Christopher also believe that unemployment benefits encourage potential workers to stay out of the workforce. Christopher said she has had applicants for new positions at her company that disappear after first contact, and she believes some are applying for jobs just so they can stay unemployed. “I don’t know what’s going on with the work ethic,” Christopher said.
But NJDOL’s Delli Santi doesn’t necessarily agree. She explained that refusal to work disqualifies an unemployed beneficiary from continuing to receive benefits. Although it has encouraged employers to report cases of potential employees refusing to work, the ministry has received fewer than 100 reports in the past 18 months. “This tells us that the situation is more complicated than workers not wanting to return to their jobs,” said Delli Santi.
“The lack of available and affordable child care remains a major problem,” said Delli Santi, noting that this factor has prevented parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. She also believes workers with underlying illnesses continue to have concerns about in-person employment.
Additionally, Siekerka noted that the lack of seasonal workers was compounded by the lack of non-U.S. Employees coming to New Jersey on summer work visas.
Outlook for the fall
“The reopening of New Jersey was almost as brutal as its sudden closure,” said Delli Santi. “Workers in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as leisure and hospitality, may have changed occupations, returned to school, or simply left the workforce.”
Siekerka hopes the situation will improve in the fall as students return to school and federal unemployment benefit assistance ends. But summer tends to be the state’s highest employment season.
Meanwhile, Christopher works seven days a week to meet demand, sees a chiropractor for stress-related pain, and says the business is struggling to grow without new employees. Asked about her prospects for the next few months, she replied, “I’ll find a way, and I hurry.”
Suzi Morales is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who writes on business, careers and networking, law, and fitness.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for detailed access to everything that makes Garden State great.