Unemployment, TRANSFORMING OUR BUSINESS CLIMATE
USA Today Network: Protect our lower wage New Jersey workers and their jobs
The following op-ed appeared in New Jersey publications of the USA Today Network on March 29, 2021.
By Regina M. Egea
New Jersey’s recreation and hospitality businesses and their employees have been the hardest hit within our state, as well as suffered much greater losses than other states. The New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association recently reported that 37% of our state’s restaurants have either permanently or temporarily shuttered. According to an analysis by the University of New Hampshire, between February and December of 2020, New Jersey lost over 42% of our jobs in the Arts, Entertainment & Recreation sector and 26% of jobs in the Accommodations & Food Services sector. Our workforce in this sector was significantly more damaged than the US average (31.9%, 21.7%) and much worse than tourist-dependent Florida (18.1%, 15.7%) and Nevada (6.5%, 14.6%).
No other industry in New Jersey came close to that level of job losses. Additionally, wages in these positions tend to be on the lower-end of the wage spectrum and, in many cases, are dependent on gratuities.
Clearly these industries and individuals are in desperate need of assistance. As vaccinations become more widespread and businesses reopen as summer approaches with improving weather, customers will be eager to eat a meal with friends, enjoy entertainment venues and even take a long -awaited “staycation” at one of New Jersey’s beach towns or resorts. But can this hard-hit sector even afford to meet that demand and are their employees still available?
Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, earlier this month announced with broad bipartisan support, a similar plan that would allow the Rocky Mountain State’s bars and restaurants to keep sales tax remittances. Last December, Gov. Polis and that state’s legislature moved to permit a deduction of up to $70,000 in sales taxes for restaurants, bars and food trucks for the months of December through February.
What could provide more immediate relief to these beleaguered industries and our shore towns than a tax holiday? Rather than “spending” one-time relief funds on programs that will just need more government funding next year, our state can invest in businesses with roots in our communities and permanent jobs for our residents.
With the new $6.4 billion in federal support, there is no reason New Jersey cannot extend that relief to our recreation and hospitality industries which was one of the few completely shut down a year ago and then, months later, still continue to operate at limited capacities.
Our year-long fog is lifting and summer plans are being explored. By re-investing in our recreation and hospitality industries at the shore and elsewhere, Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature can ensure that we will be able to celebrate together at the businesses we know along with the employees we’ve missed seeing this long year.
Regina M. Egea is president of the Garden State Initiative, an independent research and educational organization dedicated to promoting new investment, innovation and economic growth in New Jersey.