As we head into the final weeks for 2021, the New Jersey unemployment rate is now 6.6%, significantly higher than the national average of 4.2%, but there continues to be tens of thousands of available jobs.

Garden State business leaders believe there are signs the labor shortage could soon start to wind down.

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Flush with cash

Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said recent surveys have found many people have not been returning to work because they have had more disposable income than they had before.

“That’s because there were very healthy stimulus programs over the last 20 months that people are still having the opportunity to work off of. That’s going to run out,” she said.

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"The economy will correct itself as people are going to be needing to have to come back to employment in order to sustain their families into the future," she said.

Reasons workers remain off the job

Tom Bracken, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said there are still multiple reasons why many former workers continue to sit on the sidelines.

“They all have to be worked on: return-to-work dollars, work safety issues, the vaccination issue, addressing more aggressive vaccinations, all of that comes into play,” he said.

Fixing the problem

Siekerka said to accelerate the back-to-work process, the Murphy administration has acknowledged looking at what some foreign countries are doing to build back the workforce.

She said that involves “giving money to the employer, in order to pass that money onto the employee — highly effective in parts of Europe and they are looking at those models.”

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This fall, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a wide-ranging $700 million child care program to help daycare centers expand and hire more child care workers, and help parents pay for child care, but funds are not being distributed yet.

“These programs need to be sped up relative to their ability to get money on the street, there’s a delay there,” she said.

Eileen Keen the director of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said a new child care credit for families earning up to $150,000 "may put families in a position where one of the spouses can again go back to work.”

Return to work bonus

Bracken pointed out the state’s Return and Earn program, which offers those who are unemployed a $500 bonus to return to work, is well-intentioned but the program has not gotten a lot of traction.

He said a recent survey found if bonuses of $1,000 are offered, more individuals would go for it.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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