As the state begins to ease coronavirus restrictions, businesses looking to return to their normal operations are facing a new obstacle: a shortage of workers.
Both small and large employers have cited one of the issues is they can not compete with the monies that some in the state are receiving from unemployment insurance. Business leaders and lawmakers are raising the possibility that the Garden State should follow the lead of other states in reinstating the actively searching for work requirement for those receiving unemployment benefits.
When recently asked if the state was considering this reinstatement, Gov. Phil Murphy said is not ready to go down that road.
“The overwhelming amount of folks who have been hit economically and particularly with job loss in this pandemic have suffered enormously,” said Murphy on May 5. “And so, the benefits are needed for them and for their families.”
The issue is arising as the first round of coronavirus restrictions being eased announced by state officials goes into effect May 7. Patrons will once again be able to go to a buffet or sit at a bar, with social distancing required and businesses will have the choice between seating customers six feet apart or using partitions to keep them separated. Outdoor gatherings have a new max of 500 people, while capacity for indoor gatherings increased to 50% for events such as catered events, political gatherings, weddings, and funerals. Additionally, large outdoor venues with 1,000 or more seats can now open at 50% capacity.
The governor said the issue of labor shortages comes up on a regular basis pre-pandemic, mostly from those in the restaurant business. But business leaders in the state counter it has expanded, with staffing shortages forcing several Wawa stores to temporarily close or reduce their hours as the company looks to add 5,000 workers. And Walmart, with 70 retail locations and two distribution centers in New Jersey, has signs in its stores offering incentives for job seekers.
NJBIA CEO Michele Siekerka recently stated a wide variety of businesses are struggling with hiring for the Summer without offering incentives or higher wages that are better than the enhanced unemployment benefits.
“Be it restaurant, seasonal, manufacturing, logistics, truck drivers—it is across the board,” said Siekerka. “It is not just industry specific…the challenge right now is getting people to come back to work because the $300 extra enhancement with unemployment is attractive for people to stay home.”
“I’m not denying the anecdotal or even more than anecdotal evidence that folks are having a hard time hiring people because we hear it regularly ourselves,” said Murphy.
Other states whose businesses are facing the same issues are looking to revise the unemployment benefits expanded over the last 14 months of the coronavirus pandemic. New Hampshire reinstated the actively looking for work requirement because they’re facing worker shortage while Montana is ending the $300 extra federal unemployment bonus coverage to encourage people to look for employment.
While Murphy said those moves are not currently under consideration, he noted “these benefits are not forever and always.”
“We’ve had no plans to institute either the proof to us you’re looking for work,” he stated. “And I know that we won’t be pulling the $300—no plans to do either of those.”
American Rescue Help
The workforce shortage is forcing businesses to increase pay offers to $15 an hour to try and find employees, costs that Murphy opined will be passed along to consumers who will be dining out, for example.
“My sense is that’s probably one way that folks will get around this,” he said. “My guess is in fairness they’ll probably pass that on, so the burger is going to be an extra 50 cents or 75 cents, whatever it might be.”
The first-term governor believes the worker shortage is a temporary issue for small businesses and hoped federal assistance for the losses they have incurred will be available in the near future.
“Small businesses, let’s reiterate and stipulate, have been crushed,” said Murphy. “When we get the American Rescue Plan guidance, a lot of that money is going to go into restaurants, bars, hospitality, and small businesses. And that’s one other answer to this challenge right now.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 7,440,122 in states, plus an additional 357,974 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 7,798,096 as of May 7. Of those who have received the vaccine, 3,326,625 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 160,084 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 3,486,709.
Demographically, 54% of those vaccinated are women and 46% men. As for ethnicity, 57% are White, 12% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 8% Black, 8% unknown, and 4% other. In regards to age of those having received the vaccine, 34% are 65 years old or olders, 29% are between the ages of 50-64, 26% are between the ages of 30-49, and 11% are between the ages of 16-29.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 822,615 doses (371,632 fully vaccinated), Essex 594,924 doses (260,845), Morris 505,003 doses (230,524), Hudson 501,255 doses (215,735), Passaic 359,162 doses (157,441), Sussex 114,451 doses (50,740), and Warren 73,352 doses (32,543).
As of May 7, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 879,812 with 1,317 total new PCR cases reported. There were 243 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 127,093. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,006,905. Gov. Murphy previously noted there is some unknown overlap due to health officials urging those taking a rapid test to get a PCR test.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 29 new deaths, bringing that total to 23,129. The state listed probable deaths at 2,640, bringing the overall total to 25,769. State officials noted 13 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on May 7, Bergen had a total of 110 new confirmed cases and 29 probable cases, Essex 144 new cases and 36 probable cases, Hudson 145 new cases and 20 probable cases, Morris 50 new cases and 14 probable cases, Passaic 92 new cases and nine probable cases, Sussex 23 new cases and nine probable cases, and Warren 22 cases and four new probable cases.
There are a total of 3,244 coronavirus variants being reported in the Garden State. State officials documented 2,989 cases of the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), 144 cases of the California variants (B.1.429 and B.1.427), 104 cases of the Brazilian (P.1) variant, and seven cases of the South African (B.1351) variant.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,629, followed by Bergen at 2,547, Hudson with 2,022, Passaic at 1,680, Morris at 965, Sussex at 230 and Warren County at 210.
In regards to probable deaths reported May 5, Essex has 295, Bergen has 295, Morris has 252, Hudson has 213, Passaic has 195, Sussex has 67 and Warren has 25.
As for the rate of transmission, it increased to 0.54 from 0.42 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested as of May 2, was 6.7%; by region, the rate was 6.9% in the North, 6.0% in the Central region and 7.3% in the South.
Officials reported 1,282 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 593, in the North, 358 in the Central and 331 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 292 are in intensive care units and 202 on ventilators. A total of 182 patients were discharged, while 158 were admitted.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
Bergen Tops County Count
Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 88,777, followed by Essex at 84,251, Middlesex at 84,069, Hudson at 78,344, Monmouth at 66,790, Ocean at 65,062, Passaic at 64,853, Union at 59,871, Camden at 48,131, Morris at 41,531, Burlington at 37,762, Mercer at 31,199, Gloucester at 26,168, Atlantic at 24,647, Somerset at 24,046, Cumberland at 14,469, Sussex at 11,512, Warren at 8,778, Hunterdon at 8,740, Salem at 5,437, and Cape May at 4,542.
In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 14,387, followed by Union at 10,902, Ocean at 10,044, Essex at 9,346, Hudson at 9,148, Morris at 8,081, Monmouth at 8,004, Middlesex at 7,317, Passaic at 7,253, Atlantic at 6,569, Camden at 6,419, Burlington at 6,243, Somerset at 5,690, Cape May at 4,499, Gloucester at 3,893, Mercer at 2,327, Sussex at 2,247, Cumberland at 2,209, Warren at 993, Hunterdon at 888, and Salem 530.
Another 730 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 263 outbreaks involving 1,157 cases was unchanged from the previous weekly update on May 5.
For North Jersey, Bergen County has 52 confirmed outbreaks with 198 cases, Passaic County has 16 confirmed outbreaks with 52 cases, Sussex has 14 confirmed outbreaks with 55 cases, Warren has 14 confirmed outbreaks with 34 cases, Morris County has five confirmed outbreaks with 34 cases, Hudson County has five confirmed outbreaks with 23 cases, and Essex County with one confirmed outbreak with 92 cases.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 204 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 5,367 of the cases, broken down between 2,291 residents and 3,076 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,437 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,854 residents and 22,131 staff, for a total of 54,985.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,035 on May 7. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,877 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.