Outlasting a pandemic that decimated 2020 summer tourism was difficult enough for New Jersey’s seasonal businesses, but the 2021 pandemic recovery may be just as tough unless the state changes policies fueling a labor shortage, such as laws limiting teens’ work hours.
Denise Beckson, vice president of Human Resources at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, delivered that message at the New Jersey Business Coalition’s recent virtual town hall on the state’s hiring crisis, which businesses say is holding back New Jersey’s economic recovery.
The 18-acre seaside amusement and waterpark that spans six beach blocks in Wildwood normally employs 1,500 seasonal workers, but this year Morey’s Piers is struggling to fill open summer positions – even with starting wages increased to $15 an hour, Beckson said.
“Many businesses have turned to youth employment as a means to combat the hiring crisis … however, minors are limited in both the hours they can work and the jobs they can do,” Beckson said. “For example, a 15-year-old is restricted to work to a 7 p.m. end time, but 15-year-olds go to school dances that are later than that, they babysit later than that, and they hang out on the boardwalk later than 7 p.m.”
Beckson said it was time for a complete review of “antiquated” labor laws because they no longer reflect the needs of modern teens, their families, or businesses.
“We also need to review the administrative process affiliated with employing minors,” Beckson said. “For instance, we have teens who can’t get working papers processed because the local high school refuses to participate in the state online program, opting instead for face-to-face, yet face-to-face is limited because of COVID-19 restrictions.”
Beckson said Morey’s Piers and other seasonal businesses that sustained staggering losses during the summer of 2020, need a strong 2021 to recover, but the labor shortage has become their new crisis. She said the “employment pandemic” was being caused by workers’ lingering fears of COVID-19, extended unemployment benefits that disincentivize people from returning to work, and U.S. State Department delays processing visas for the hundreds of overseas students who typically come to New Jersey for summer work.
“We have never seen this type of staffing struggle,” Beckson said. “We typically find it difficult to hire because we don’t have a large local population, but this is unprecedented.”
Beyond an overhaul of youth employment laws, Beckson also offered other suggestions for resolving the labor shortage.
“We need incentives for available workers to return to the job and mechanisms to report those who have not returned to their positions,” Beckson said. “We need tax credits and financial assistance to help businesses through recovery and to cover the rising cost of wages, materials and supplies that are all part of the pandemic fallout.”
The New Jersey Business Coalition virtual town hall on May 11 was attended by more than 150 people, including 20 federal and state legislators or their staff.