NEW JERSEY — The Garden State hit its COVID-19 vaccination goal — more than 4.7 million residents fully vaccinated — this week, but the state’s economic recovery remains an ongoing battle.
While the unemployment rate edged slightly lower in April to 7.5%, many New Jersey residents remain out of work since the pandemic hit more than a year ago. It’s a trend the entire nation has been grappling with, and some states are offering incentives to get people back to work.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined the premiere of PIX on Politics Sunday morning to discuss the state’s pandemic recovery, telling host Dan Mannarino he is “open-minded” to the idea of incentivizing workers.
“I think the incentive you’re seeing, frankly, at the grassroots level are businesses paying up in their wages to get people to come in. And you’re seeing a fair amount of that,” Murphy added.
The governor said he was intrigued by a proposal from Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) that would use federal funding to offer a one-time $500 back-to-work bonus to New Jersey residents receiving enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits who start a new job by Aug. 1.
“I think what you’re going to see more often than not is you’re going to see the business pay more for labor and pass that on to the consumer, which is why we’re seeing some of the inflation that we’re seeing,” he added.
The governor also said struggling small business owners can expect to benefit from the state’s $10.1 billion surplus expected to carry over into the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
“I would expect you’ll see significant investment in our public health infrastructure. As we mentioned, small businesses,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure we take care of the folks who have hurt the most. Folks who are in arrears on utility payments, rent, mortgage — schools and improving their infrastructure like HVAC systems.”
Many parents are already focusing on September and what the new academic year will look like for their children amid ongoing COVID vaccine trials for children under 12 years old.
Murphy has said all students in New Jersey need to return to the classroom full-time this fall, but the governor stopped short of suggesting mandatory COVID vaccinations for eligible children.
“They’ve got to go to school,” he said of students. “And I would just plead with [the parents] to vaccinate their child … but the message is you gotta get back to school. We’re not going to put anyone’s life at risk, if there’s a real health challenge, obviously. We never have, we never will.”
When asked whether students will be required to wear masks indoors, which is the current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Murphy said he hopes not but it’s too soon to make that call.
Looking ahead, the governor said he sees New Jersey in “very strong shape,” but he also noted that the state paid an “enormous price” during the pandemic.
“Over 26,000 losses of life, and that’s something we’ll never get over,” Murphy said. “Having said that, I think our economy, you’re seeing it right now, is beginning to snap back.”
The biggest challenge facing New Jersey in the years to come, according to Murphy, will be facing the inequities that the pandemic laid bare.