Massachusetts retailers hope to fill jobs as more than 300,000 residents lose federal unemployment benefits

As nearly 304,000 Bay Staters lose $ 300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits – a “safety rope” for many Massachusetts residents – local retailers are hoping this expiration of benefits will help small businesses fill jobs.

“We have already seen a number of small businesses permanently shut down,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, of the effects of the labor shortage. “What happens over the next four months during the holidays will determine whether there will be more small business closures in January and February.”

The situation for small businesses started to improve in June when Massachusetts implemented a job search requirement to keep people collecting unemployment, Hurst said, but the labor shortage due to multiple factors linked to COVID has strained businesses end-to-end.

“It also hurts the seller at the consumer level as there are fewer choices, the prices are higher and the service is not at an optimal level,” he said. “All of these factors make this, frankly, a bit of a tenuous situation.”

Data from the state’s Executive Bureau of Labor and Workforce Development showed that while the state’s unemployment rate hovered at just under 5 percent in July, the distribution of the unemployed is uneven. .

While the number of people seeking employment in food preparation exceeds the number of jobs by three, for example, the reverse is true in industries like healthcare and jobs related to computers and mathematics. .

The unemployment rate also varies widely by race: it’s 12.5% ​​for Latinos and 11.1% for Black Bay Staters.

An Opportunity Insights study, led by Harvard, showed that while those earning more than $ 60,000 in Massachusetts saw their jobs drop by 2% since the start of the pandemic through November, those earning less than $ 27,000 has seen a decline of 29%.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said the number of people perceiving unemployment peaked by mid-summer and speculated that job seekers could wait until benefits expire, until the children return to school or until the impact of the delta variant of COVID-19 subsides to return to work.

Now that this is becoming a reality, Hurst said: “I think there will be more people who look and feel more comfortable and re-enter the workforce.”

The Executive Office for Labor and Workforce Development began to preemptively tackle the unemployment benefit cutoff last month by hosting a historically significant job fair with more than 17,000 participants.

The Baker administration also announced a $ 240 million workforce development program to address the long-term challenges of matching the skills of the workforce to the jobs needed. The program aims to train more than 52,000 unemployed and underemployed workers in in-demand fields over the next three years.

Despite the skills shortage, Hurst is optimistic that those who lose their benefits soon will be able to find work.

“You would be hard pressed to find a fully staffed industry right now,” he said. “Anyone who really wants to find a job and is serious about it, there are opportunities for them. “

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