Hiring shortage still slamming Jersey Shore industry, biz owners say

Daniel J. Munoz//July 27, 2021

Hiring shortage still slamming Jersey Shore industry, biz owners say

Daniel J. Munoz//July 27, 2021

Despite record interest from customers coming out of the pandemic, ongoing hiring shortages have nonetheless continued to pummel businesses this summer.

That’s according to several employers who pleaded their case at a July 27 morning press conference at Point Pleasant Beach, a family seaside town.

“Being open 100% means absolutely nothing without a workforce of 100%,” said Michele Siekerka, head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, which organized the Tuesday press conference at Red’s Lobster, a seasonal eatery at the western entrance to the Manasquan Inlet, which pours out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The exact cause of the hiring shortage has been a matter of intense political debate.

Businesses claim the added $300 in federal unemployment weekly benefits has, in turn, disincentivized people to return to work and fueled a disappointing nationwide April jobs report, which saw 266,000 jobs added rather than the projected 1 million.

States like North Dakota, Montana and South Carolina are dropping the benefits, but Gov. Phil Murphy says there are no similar plans in New Jersey.

State leaders have tinkered with different proposals–expanded working hours for underage teenagers, back-to-work bonuses, and for employers to handle the costs of providing increased pay.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO, NJBIA.

Siekerka, at the July 27 event, said one proposal was for the state to provide a lump sum of the $300 per week benefits for those who immediately return to work. And she pushed for stricter requirements so that any claimants able, but not willing, to return to work can be penalized.

Labor rights organizations contend that a combination of low pay, poor working conditions and lack of health and safety precautions – especially in light of the pandemic – are driving a shortage in applicants.

Though business owners like Allie O’Neill, who operates a set of bakeries on Long Beach Island, said on Tuesday that her operations have still struggled to recover even with boosted pay.

Other factors such as lack of access to child care mean that workers have no way to ensure their children are looked after while those parents are at their place of employment.

August and everything after

But the effects are nonetheless felt across the board, especially for the Jersey Shore, which typically acts as a multibillion-dollar cash cow for the state each year.

Those businesses include boardwalks and amusement parks, restaurants and retail, lifeguards, campgrounds, museums, hotels and motels, and virtually any employer on the 141-mile coastline.

“Our businesses have been forced to cut hours, close portions of their operations, and some just shut down unexpectedly, disappointing our loyal customers who say, all year long, for their one trip to the shore,” said Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, which heavily depends on summer tourism.

NJBIZ Conversations

New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka speaks with NJBIZ Editor Jeff Kanige on July 28, 2021.

NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka talks about what the organization characterizes as a hiring crisis, the factors that created it and how businesses will have to change to meet the challenge.

She said that Cape May County in particular, with its sparse populations compared to the beaches further north, depends on workers from the J-1 visa program, which brings thousands of international workers to the Jersey Shore.

The problem is expected to worsen in the very near future, said Denise Beckson, an executive at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood in South Jersey, which operates three piers and two water parks in the seaside resort town.

While employers have been able to tentatively rely on teenage workers and younger staff home from college for the summer break, they all begin to head back to their campuses in the coming weeks.

“We are losing staff daily due to college, returning to band camp, sports camp,” Beckson said. “They have other commitments, they have other obligations.”

She and others like O’Neill said they expect August to be particularly painful with the even further drop-off in staffing.

And that’s particularly worrisome for an industry that depends on the final weeks in August for a surge in tourist hankering to squeeze in a final shore visit before Labor Day weekend, Beckson said.

For an industry where between 2019 and 2020 the pandemic shaved off 29 million annual tourists and $17 billion in visitor spending, employers and business advocates on Tuesday said that could very well be their final nail in the coffin.