New Jersey added 20,000 jobs back to its workforce in October, according to the Labor and Workforce Development Department’s monthly jobs report, as the state struggles to rebound from the COVID-19 recession amid months of hiring shortages.
The state added 21,500 jobs to the workforce in September – the first full month since the $300 in federal weekly unemployment relief expired – 20,300 jobs in August, and 14,600 jobs in September.
All told, the rebounds represent 512,900 jobs recovered since the COVID-19 business closures in March and April 2020, or 72%, according to figures gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released by the New Jersey labor department.
The unemployment rate, which had dipped below pre-Recession levels just before the pandemic, finally stayed at 7.1% in October, having been above 7% for most of 2021.
Since the summer, business owners, advocates and trade groups have complained of considerable hiring shortages – especially in the restaurant, retail, entertainment and hotel industries – which have hampered their pandemic-recoveries. The shortages were particularly painful for businesses along the Jersey Shore over the summer, typically a boom time for those regional operators.
Many business owners said they have had to cut hours, shut down portions of their operations, switch to just take-out in the case of restaurants, or close down entirely.
With holiday shopping season all but here, labor experts and economists have warned that the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors could face a major crunch because of the hiring shortages, as well as other factors such as shipping delays.
October’s figures showed that the professional and business services added 8,900 positions; trade, transportation and utilities added 4,000 positions; leisure and hospitality added 3,200 jobs; and construction added 2,700 jobs.
The exact cause of the labor shortage has been heavily disputed. While many business heads pinned most of the blame on the weekly $300 as an incentive not to work, many others contend that a desire for career advancement, lack of access to child care, concerns about subpar working conditions, and shift in life priorities during the pandemic have played equally major roles.
Those employers with NJBIZ interviewed after the end of the weekly $300 said they haven’t fared well since the cut-off in finding new workers.
Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy introduced a $10 million pilot program to subsidize $500 hiring bonuses and $10,000 in training wages for workers switching into a new industry. While the bonuses have shown limited success, Murphy said he was confident that the addition of the training wages under the “Return and Earn” program would be enough to turn the tide of the labor shortage.
Many employers told NJBIZ they were pessimistic about their hiring prospects even with the program.
On top of that, the state is setting aside $700 million to subsidize its child care industry, which they argue is key to getting people back to work.
“There were announcements of programs made, but we don’t have transparency to where that money is out on the street yet,” Michele Siekerka, who heads the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said of both programs in a brief interview with NJBIZ following a Nov. 16 panel at the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City.