Murphy: Many reasons workers aren’t back

Governor cites everything from extra $300 to child care

Gov. Phil Murphy.

Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged the temporary addition of $300 to weekly unemployment checks may be slowing the return of workers to the workforce.

“It feels like that may be a part of it,” he said.

But, he said, that is only one cause of the issue.

“No question, there’s dislocation in the labor market,” he said. “You see it all over the state.”

Murphy noted child care — and the impact of hybrid school setups — also are factors.

“I have sympathy with lack of consistent ability to get child care, or the fact that we’re still in the school year (for) a lot of the public schools in our state — most of the public schools in our state — and a lot of them are hybrid mode.”

Murphy said the idea that some workers have gotten used to the idea of working remotely — and don’t necessarily want to return to a commute or office setting — plays a part, too.

He’s hopeful, though, that another cause could be one that ultimately benefits residents, who are looking to improve their lives.

“When people leave the workforce, sometimes in a recovery, that’s an early sign that folks are trying to step up to another level of pay or required skill,” he said. “People use this as an opportunity to upsell themselves into a different career lane. I think there’s some of that going on.”

Murphy said he sees the labor issue — especially when he talks to those in the restaurant industry. He is hopeful, however, that the problem is only temporary.

“I think this is a matter of time,” he said. “I bet it’s measured in months, but it’s real. Having said that, there’s no question, it’s real.”

Quick-fix solutions are harder to come by.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) announced support for a new $500 back-to-work bonus, utilizing a portion of the federal COVID-19 relief dollars heading to the state from the American Rescue Plan. 

Gottheimer proposed the one-time $500 incentive for residents who are currently unemployed if they start a job by Aug. 1 and maintain employment through at least Sept. 1.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.).

“It’s absolutely essential to connect unemployed Jersey workers with businesses in need and encourage workers to return,” he said. “To help both our unemployed residents and local businesses, I’m asking the state to consider implementing a back-to-work incentive program.”

The U.S. Treasury has said that back-to-work incentives are eligible expenses for state COVID-19 relief funds. However, instituting a new program would take time. Some other states,  including Connecticut and Colorado, currently are implementing similar incentive programs.

Murphy offered praised for Gottheimer — but not necessarily support for the idea.

“I told Josh that I’m open-minded to considering anything we can to allow the labor force to catch up to what is clearly a recovery right now,” he said. 

But, he also noted he’s not interested in spending the federal money from the American Rescue Plan anytime soon. 

“We want to make sure we get this right — that we do we spend that money responsibly,” he said. “We have the ability to spend it over a period of years. I just want to make sure we get a good budget, and that we then get the federal money in a really good place.”

Gottheimer clearly wishes that would start with a back-to-work bonus. 

“There are financial and logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic,” he said. “From child care, to transportation, to ongoing health issues, school and taking care of family members — I think we are all trying to figure everything out as quickly as possible. I believe this $500 back-to-work bonus will help in that transition.”

Murphy noncommittal on increasing rebates

Gov. Phil Murphy said all the right things when asked about whether the state — flush with a more than $10 billion surplus — would return some of that money to taxpayers in the homestead rebate.

He said discussions with the Legislature have been “extremely” constructive, productive and in very good spirits — but he passed on the chance to say some of that money is coming back to taxpayers.

“No news to report here, but, if we can find a way, for instance, to plus up the homestead rebate, count me all in for things like that,” he said. “But, to be determined, exactly where we come out.”