With businesses across the Jersey Shore complaining of stifling labor shortages, a bill Gov. Phil Murphy quickly approved will let teenagers in the state work more hours per week for the duration of the summer.
The new law, signed July 1, lets anyone between the ages of 16 and 18 work up to 50 hours a week, up from 40 hours a week. A teenager would need the sign-off of their parent or guardian to work those extra 10 hours and the law expires on Sept. 6, 2021, just after Labor day weekend.
Proponents say the infusion of teenage labor is vital for businesses; it comes at a time when many employers say the current hiring shortage will keep them from fully rebounding this summer.
Industries such as retail, restaurants and hotels have been among some of the worst-hit by this phenomenon.
“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 June 30 statement from Christopher Emigholz, vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association trade group.
“It will also make certain seasonal businesses less reliant on foreign workers,” he continued, particularly important at a time when that pool of workers is at an all-time record-low due to global travel restrictions.
The legislation – Assembly Bill 5898 – was introduced on June 14 and sailed through the state Legislature, having garnered Murphy’s approval on Thursday, when Fourth of July weekend business kicks off.
“This is a temporary fix to a temporary problem, but the additional 10 hours each week could help both the worker and the business,” said Sen. Steven Oroho, R-24th District, a main sponsor of the state Senate version.
The exact cause of the labor 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 April jobs report, which saw 266,000 jobs added rather than the projected 1 million. Job rebounds sped up in May, according to federal data.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.
Labor rights organizations contend that the combination of low pay, poor working conditions and lack of health and safety precautions are driving a shortage in applicants.
State lawmakers are proposing a series of tax credits to help businesses with the added costs, such as the use of hiring bonuses or increased pay, to hire back workers.
U.S. Rep Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from Bergen County, is asking Murphy to use some of the state’s federal aid to roll out $500 back-to-work bonuses.
Additionally, the proposed New Workers Act in Congress would let people collect $180 a week in benefits after finding a job.