New Jersey’s job gains as the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 recession accelerated in May, as businesses struggle to shake off nationwide hiring shortages and reverse 15 months of economic devastation.
Data released June 17 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show the state added 13,600 jobs, most of them in the private sector.
That’s compared to 4,900 in April when nationwide economists and public officials expected to add more than 1 million new jobs in the private sector, but instead added just 266,000 people to the labor force.
“After the virtual standstill from September to January, continued and reasonably steady progress looks to be underway,” said New Jersey’s former chief economist Charles Steindel in a June 17 statement from the conservative think tank Garden State Initiative. “All in all, May’s report was on the positive side.”
Unemployment moved down for the third month in a row, clocking in at 7.2% in May, compared to 7.5% in April and 7.6% in March. It’s stayed above 7% since December.
Business advocates and conservative lawmakers pin the blame for the hiring shortages on the $300 per week federal unemployment bonuses for enticing people to stay home, rather than getting back to work. Labor rights organizations contend that subpar pay, lack of worker safety and health, and difficulties in accessing child care are more to blame.
Now, with the summer tourism season upon the state, many employers worry about how they can keep their operations going on limited staffs.
Filling the gaps
A bill moving through the state Legislature – Senate Bill 3963 – would allow teenagers from 16 to 18 years of age to work up to 50 hours a week during the summer months, which the legislation defines as the time between their last day of school and Sept. 6. The current limit is 40 hours a week during the summer.
“This bill will give employers more flexibility to hire and fill the gaps left by non-returning workers as businesses continue to struggle to fill jobs, particularly in the seasonal and tourism industry,” reads a statement from Chris Emigholz, vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
Even still, those businesses hardest hit by the pandemic and that have reported some of the worst of the hiring woes – restaurants, leisure and hospitality – have shown the biggest month-over-month job gains.
They added 6,200 new jobs in May, compared to 3,000 new jobs in April.
Trade, transportation and utilities added 3,000 new jobs, and education and health services added 2,500 new jobs.
The federal BLS noted that Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the majority of COVID-19 business restrictions in late May, after the agency finished its reporting. Those reopenings and their impact on the job market are bound to show up in the June report, which comes out in mid-July.
All told, an estimated 2.1 million New Jerseyans filed for unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 business closures.
At the height of the shutdowns last year, state labor officials reported weekly jobless claims shooting up to more than 200,000 filings in a single week.