While jobless claims are up, businesses still struggle to find workers

Officials say small businesses are being hit hard from the pandemic and workers who are not returning.
CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Across the tri-state area, many businesses have gone belly-up in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits is up, but business owners say they are struggling to find workers.

At Morey's Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, they like other businesses across the Jersey Shore, are at the peak of tourist season.

But the operator says she is down 300 workers and has had to ask staff members to work extra shifts to stay in business.

"We've also cut down our operating schedule, so we aren't open as many hours as we were in 2019," said operator Denise Beckson at Morey's Piers.

According to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, businesses, and in particular small businesses, are being hit hard by the combination of pandemic lockdowns and now workers who are not coming back into the labor force.

"We're over 40% less businesses here in the state of New Jersey compared to January 2020. This is not sustainable," said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

But she says it's not that businesses are not trying to bring workers back.

"I have folks paying dishwashers or a line cook $30 an hour just to keep the restaurant open," said Siekerka.

Businesses say several factors are feeding into this trend, like child care issues. But add another primary factor is the $300 a week federal supplemental income, being given in addition to unemployment benefits.

"So in New Jersey, for instance, the maximum unemployment is set at $713, add $300, you're getting over $1,000 a week," said Beckson.

Some states have been cracking down, requiring people to show they've been trying to find work to keep getting benefits.

But business operators say people apply for work but don't show up for interviews meeting the job search criteria.

"Anybody whose gaming the system needs to know that the department of labor can catch up with you and can claw back that money," said Siekerka.

Despite these claims, Siekerka says businesses cannot continue to operate with little or no staff.

"I have a message for New Jersey's workforce out here, our companies need you, and they want you to come back," she said.

On Saturday, Target in Logan Township will sponsor a job fair, seeking to hire 4,000 workers for its Logan supply chain building.

They are offering a starting salary of $20 an hour with a $2,000 sign-on bonus.

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