NJ Companies Face Labor Shortage As Holiday Season Begins

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NEW JERSEY — The “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere. From restaurants to stores to service companies, employers are searching for workers to fill shifts and serve customers.

While the unemployment rate in New Jersey continues to be higher than the national rate, sitting at 7.0 percent for October according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, finding workers to fill positions continues to be a challenge as the economy recovers from the shutdowns and disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the holiday season heating up, the need to fill jobs is becoming more acute. The question of whether companies — especially retail stores, restaurants and bars — will be able to adequately fill positions remains.

The labor shortage has vexed New Jersey employers for months, prompting an increase in wage and benefit offerings to convince people to join their companies.

Amazon, which has seen its business continue to skyrocket as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is advertising wages of $20 per hour or more, with sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000. A full array of benefits, including a $110 gift card to Zappos to buy work shoes, are available.

UPS, which yearly hires seasonal workers to help deliver the onslaught of packages as people continue to lean heavily on online shopping, is advertising $17 per hour, with the possibility of full-time positions.

Retailers are paying above minimum wage at many New Jersey stores, and offering health benefits, signing bonuses and college tuition payments to try to draw workers.

Macy’s is advertising “competitive hourly rates, schedules to meet your availability,” an increase for working weekends, and opportunities to get hired permanently, in its ad on Simply Jobs. Burlington Stores is offering health and dental benefits and access to a 401k to its part-time hires.

Costco is paying workers more than $16 per hour for cashiers. According to Glassdoor, which allows employees to post anonymously about their workplaces, Target has been paying cashiers $13 per hour in New Jersey, and Best Buy is advertising $15 per hour.

Employers are facing an uphill battle, in part because of Baby Boomers who have retired from the workforce, and because of what economists are calling “The Great Resignation,” where younger workers are leaving jobs at a high rate for jobs that pay more or offer better benefits.

Labor force participation for the entire working age population declined from an annual average of 67 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2019, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. This partly reflects a steep drop in participation among 16- to 24-year-olds (from 66 percent to 56 percent) as young people increasingly pursued schooling rather than employment, the Pew report said.

The Baby Boomer population, which had been powering the labor supply, has decreased its participation significantly. The Pew analysis said that as of the third quarter of 2021, 50.3 percent of U.S. adults 55 and older had retired, an increase over the third quarter of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, when it was 48.1 percent of those adults.

Over the last two years, more than 3.5 million adults 55 and older have retired, the Pew report said.

Add to the retirements the increasing number of people resigning from jobs. In September, there were 4.4 million resignations submitted nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of those, 603,000 were in the Northeast. The bureau said the figure is a series high.

Many of those resignations are due to the increasing ability to change jobs. That and the ability to pick the better offer are factors making it difficult for employers to hire and keep workers, even as New Jersey’s unemployment remains higher than the national average.

Danny Nelms, president of the Work Institute, told the Wall Street Journal that the high number of people resigning from jobs is part of why so many employers are struggling to fill positions.

“This [pandemic] has been going on for so long, it’s affecting people mentally, physically,” Nelms said. “All those things are continuing to make people be reflective of their life and career and their jobs. Add to that over 10 million openings, and if I want to go do something different it’s not terribly hard to do.”

Resignations aren’t limited to workers who have the least time working for a company, however. The Wall Street Journal report said research from workforce analytics company Visier Inc. found resignations were up nearly 40 percent even among people who were 40 to 50 years old, in a look at data from 50 large U.S. companies.

What will this mean for shoppers and holiday revelers? It will mean everyone will need to be a little more patient with retail workers and restaurant workers, which are among the industries seeing the most turnover, the Wall Street Journal report said.

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