With New York's unemployment rate expected to rise dramatically, some businesses are looking to bolster their workforce
ALBANY – With New York's unemployment rate expected to skyrocket due to the novel coronavirus, there's at least one industry in the state looking to hire: grocery stores.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken strong actions to contain the spread of COVID-19, closing bars and restaurants to sit-in customers, and shuttering non-essential businesses like beauty salons, casinos, movie theaters and shopping malls.
And on Friday, Cuomo announced plans to sign an executive order requiring non-essential employers to have 100% of their workforce work from home, a move Cuomo said is necessary to ensure public safety.
"These actions will cause much disruption. They will cause businesses to close and employees to get laid off. I understand that," Cuomo said.
But grocery stores and distribution centers across the state are looking to bolster their staffs as droves of panic-stricken customers continue to clear shelves.
"It's kind of an interesting thing because obviously there's been a heavy demand on the retail sector for getting products on the shelves," Bob Murphy, executive director of the Broome-Tioga Workforce, said.
ShopRite, Price Chopper, Tops and Stop & Shop are all hiring at this time, as are Walmart and Amazon. On Monday, Dollar General said it plans to nearly double its normal hiring rate and add up to 50,000 employees by the end of April, spurred by heightened demand for household essentials amid COVID-19 concerns
“The Dollar General family continues to do its part in helping our customers and neighbors during these unprecedented times,” said Kathy Reardon, Dollar General’s senior vice president and chief people officer. “We invite individuals looking to start or grow a career, as well as for those whose job may be temporarily impacted by COVID-19, to apply for opportunities to help further our mission of Serving Others.”
While many businesses in New York have been forced to reduce staff or cut hours in order to keep the lights on, grocery stores and online distributors have actually seen their need for workers rise.
Price Chopper is looking to add an additional 2,000 employees, and grocery chains like Tops, Stop & Shop and ShopRite are also looking to add to their ranks.
Hannaford said it is hiring across its 182 locations spread throughout New York and New England in order to "better customers and provide some relief" to its employees.
“Our associates have gone above and beyond day in and day out to extend care to our customers and community. And, now we need to grow the team and expedite our efforts to hire and train new associates,” the grocer said in a statement.
Amazon said earlier this week it's looking to hire another 100,000 workers to assist with online deliveries through at least April.
And Walmart announced plans to hire 150,000 new employees through then end of May to work in stores and distribution centers.
The company said it has reached out to restaurant and hospitality groups — industries the hardest hit by the coronavirus — to bridge the unemployment gap.
“We know millions of Americans who are usually employed at this time are temporarily out of work, and at the same time we’re currently seeing strong demand in our stores,” Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart, said in a statement.
In another example, Steuben Foods in western New York said it is hiring workers for its food and packaging products.
Still, the number of unemployed New Yorkers is expected to rise in the weeks ahead.
Murphy said there's been a "fairly massive" uptick in the number seeking to apply for unemployment benefits since the the state began shuttering recreational businesses in order to slow the virus' spread.
Unemployment in the state has been steadily trending downwards in the years since the Great Recession, dipping below 4% last year, the lowest it's been in decades.
But the number is now expected to rise sharply with some economists predicting a possible recession due to the coronavirus.
A full impact the virus has had on the state's private sector is not yet known.
New York just released its latest unemployment numbers for January earlier this week, but the first known case of the virus didn't appear in New York until March 1.
The state's Department of Labor announced the number of unemployment applications has surged by 1,000% in some parts of the state in recent days.
And the number of logins to its website has surged in recent days to over 250,000, a 400% increase.
To mitigate the impacts, the state Legislature passed a series of bills extending paid sick leaveto those infected with the virus, and waiving the waiting period for those looking to apply for unemployment benefits.
The state has waived a seven-day waiting period for those looking to apply for unemployment benefits and as established a filing schedule based on a person's last name.
Action is also being taken to bolster the Department of Labor's server capacity to prevent disruptions, Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo's top aide, said Friday.
"It's been overwhelmed to the point of collapse," she said of the website.
On Sunday, Cuomo said the state has 700 people working on the website and answering phones to process claims.
"I know people are frustrated. I get it," Cuomo said. "But we've never seen volume like this ever."