The state’s unemployment rate fell to 2.3 percent in May. (Getty Images)
In another time, an April virtual job fair co-hosted by the state would have been a job hunter’s dream: 100 employers looking to fill 3,400 jobs. Not these days. Only 138 people showed up.
Employment experts say the federal assistance that rescued so many Americans during the pandemic’s unprecedented health and financial crisis may be working against the economy now.
“Unemployment benefits are more generous right now . . . and you also have expanded eligibility,” said Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner at the state Department of Employment Security, which has co-sponsored 15 job fairs since August. “But that’s not sustainable, and it’s not good. I’m not doing the individual any favors by allowing them to easily continue to collect long-term unemployment. Not good for the individual or the economy.”
During the eight job fairs held in 2021, 305 employees tried to fill 16,500 jobs. Just over 600 job seekers attended. Lavers said those numbers include some employers who participated in multiple fairs, “but not nearly enough to do anything about how incredibly off-balance these numbers currently are.”
The state, whose unemployment rate for March was half the national rate of 6 percent, can exert only so much influence.
Federal pandemic unemployment benefits, which account for nearly 80 percent of the $1.82 billion the state has paid out in unemployment during the pandemic, are not scheduled to end until Sept. 4. In the meantime, Gov. Chris Sununu said the state will reinstate on May 23 a requirement that people filing for unemployment benefits must be looking for work. (The rule was suspended earlier in the pandemic.)
The Department of Employment Security is hoping ongoing virtual job fairs, 12 of which are scheduled in May, will also give Granite Staters a path and nudge to find work.
“It seems like every business that I drive by is hiring right now,” Lavers told the House Labor Committee Wednesday. Unemployment filers “are not being required to start working, they are being required to start looking and make contacts with hiring employers so that they can back into sustainable employment.”
There is no shortage of employers ready to hire. Businesses across the state and nation say they’ve been unable to bring on enough workers to fully reopen because they cannot compete with unemployment benefits. It’s led some to raise wages and offer work-from-home options.
In an interview with WMUR Saturday, Tom Boucher, the CEO of Great NH Restaurants, which manages multiple eateries, said the state is in a “labor crisis” that could be worse for restaurants than the pandemic.
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