Brooklyn businesses say unemployment benefits hurt hiring

About two-thirds of Brooklyn’s merchants are having difficulty hiring workers as they seek to ramp up operations following the coronavirus shutdowns — and many are blaming generous federal emergency jobless benefits approved by President Biden for keeping people home, a new survey reveals.

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce poll of 200 small businesses found that 64 percent were having trouble hiring people.

A significant 42 percent of respondents cited higher COVID-19 emergency jobless benefits extended through September — including the $300 weekly supplement — as discouraging people from returning to the workforce because the government checks pay as much or more than the city’s $15 minimum wage.

The survey also found that 41 percent of merchants said they couldn’t provide adequate hours to employees as they slowly emerge from the pandemic; 28 percent said employees had moved on to other jobs; 12 percent said workers had safety concerns; 7 percent reported losing contact with former employees and 5 percent cited employee health issues.

Several business owners also said employees cited inadequate access to childcare as hindering a return to work.

“While there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the recovery and the future of small businesses in our borough, the reality is significant hiring issues exist right now that we need to address,” said Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

President Joe Biden acknowledged the problem with the emergency benefits saying, "no one should be allowed to game the system."
President Joe Biden acknowledged the problem with the emergency benefits saying, “no one should be allowed to game the system.”
Tasos Katopodis/Pool via CNP/MediaPunch

“Sufficient staffing and operating issues could slow our recovery and leave many small businesses that we know suffered during pandemic-induced restrictions at continued risk for their long-term viability.”

The Post last week reported that many New York City restaurants reported being burned by a shortage of workers who say they’re better off collecting COVID-relief bill-enhanced unemployment checks — leaving some eateries unable to open at the newly expanded 75 percent indoor capacity.

Jobless New Yorkers are getting paid between $600 and $805 in combined state and federal unemployment benefits per week.

The Brooklyn business group also said its restaurateurs were having the hardest time hiring people.

President Biden on Monday acknowledged the problem and warned people not to exploit the system aimed to help the truly jobless.

“The law is clear: if you’re receiving unemployment benefits and you’re offered a suitable job, you can’t refuse that job and just keep getting the unemployment benefits,” Biden said.

“No one should be allowed to game the system and we will insist that the law is followed.”

The Brooklyn chamber survey said the hiring struggle exists despite the fact that many firms altered their pre-COVID recruitment strategies for attracting workers by offering more flexible and remote work hours, improved benefits and pay and improved safety measures.

The chamber noted that its survey’s findings mirrored many of the issues in the federal Labor Department’s April jobs report, which reflected an increase in the unemployment rate and hiring figures that were far below the estimates of many economists.

Jobless New Yorkers are getting paid between $600 and $805 in benefits each week.
Jobless New Yorkers are getting paid between $600 and $805 in benefits each week.
Sipa via AP Images

The survey had a silver lining: nearly 60 percent of respondents believe they will add some additional staff in the next twelve months, and 13 percent report they will hire many new employees. That’s a sign of confidence in the city’s recovery, Peers said.

Only a handful of the 202 businesses that answered said they intend to reduce their headcounts.

Cooks and wait staff in eateries accounted for the largest number of jobs hired for, which should continue as restrictions on indoor dining are relaxed. Indoor capacity in the city increases to 75 percent on May 7.

“Brooklyn remains a great place to open and run a business and the future continues to be bright. But we need to help the entrepreneurs that put so much of their sweat into building successful ventures before the pandemic and are now wondering what their futures hold and how they will be able to operate at full strength,” Peers said.