Stay employed for six months and you'll get a $500 bonus. Work here and you'll get a free meal during every one of your shifts.

The unemployment rate in New Jersey remains much higher than where it was in early March 2020, prior to coronavirus restrictions, yet New Jersey businesses are struggling more than ever to find help.

"We don't have enough workers to run the restaurant at 50%. It's ridiculous," said Roger Price, president of Mastoris Restaurant in Bordentown.

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He's currently promising a total of $300 over time to current workers who bring in other hires. From time to time, he'll offer free dinners to individuals who can lead him to a legitimate employee.

According to Price and other business leaders, the reason for this struggle is obvious — unemployment benefits continue to get extended, along with weekly bonuses ($300 through early September). At the same time, folks on the unemployment rolls in New Jersey aren't forced to prove they're actively seeking a job.

"This is not unemployment, this is vacation money," said Anthony Braica, owner of La Cipollina Ristorante in Freehold. "You're not helping those people, you're enabling them."

With one no-show by an employee, he said, the restaurant may be forced to shut down one or more tables. He believes the current situation is going to force businesses to raise prices on consumers in order to stay above water financially.

"Unless something's done, this is going to be the worst summer in 35 years for us," Braica said.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said employers, especially those in the retail and hospitality sectors, are struggling to compete with enhanced benefits for out-of-work residents.

"This is despite the fact that a job is long term, while unemployment benefits are not," Siekerka said.

In New Jersey, folks who are "delaying their job search until this natural emergency ends or subsides" are permitted to answer "yes" in order to certify weekly benefits.

The New Jersey Department of Labor notes that federal unemployment benefits end on Sept. 4, as of now, and advises residents that it would be "unwise to refuse suitable work" for the short-term gain of current benefits.

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