In Brief

Report calls for protections, says job gains exclude N.J.’s most vulnerable workers

By: - September 6, 2021 7:00 am

New Jersey has recovered 62% of the 717,000 jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic, still 276,000 jobs short of where it was in February 2020, a new report says. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Even as some parts of the economy have rebounded, New Jersey’s job market continues to lag behind its pre-pandemic levels — and gains haven’t been evenly distributed, leaving those hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis behind, according to a new report released Monday by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP).

New Jersey has recovered 62% of the 717,000 jobs lost at the onset of the pandemic, still 276,000 jobs short of where it was in February 2020, the report says.

Worker protections — like expanded federal unemployment benefits — are ending, even though the coronavirus infections and deaths statewide are on the upswing. Some of those protections excluded some workers, like undocumented immigrants and workers in the informal economy including day laborers and domestic workers.

Slashing the safety net, when the crisis continues, perpetuates gender and racial injustice, the report says. Last year, Black workers were 77% more likely — and Hispanic workers, 60% likelier — to be unemployed than white workers, according to the report.

“The termination of key safety-net programs and worker protections will cause more workers to be pushed into economic hardship or into jobs with unsafe conditions, low wages, and limited access to sick days and paid leave,” wrote the report’s author, Vineeta Kapahi, a senior policy analyst at NJPP. “A strong and equitable recovery from this crisis will require lawmakers to create supports and protections for workers that match the health and economic conditions of this challenging time.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Extending unemployment assistance to workers excluded from federal relief programs by funding the Excluded Workers Fund.
  • Increasing the number of paid sick days employees get — and better enforcing the state’s sick days law. New Jersey now requires employers to provide five sick days a year, and employers can make workers wait 120 days after their first day of work to use them.
  • Strengthen worker protections by mandating clear and enforceable health and safety standards and protocols; prevent workplace retaliation by prohibiting punishment or termination without warning or cause; and adopt targeted protections to prevent worker exploitation in vulnerable fields like temp work and domestic work.
  • Raise substandard wages, which are especially prevalent for tipped workers and farmworkers who typically make less than the standard $12 minimum wage. The report recommends convening wage boards, wherein unions, employers, and state labor officials can agree on fair wage standards.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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