New jobless claims have fallen for the past four weeks in a row, even as the state hits the second wave of a pandemic that has put nearly 1.8 million New Jerseyans out of work since March.
Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor show that 23,904 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment benefits the week ending Oct. 31.
For the week ending Oct. 24, the state saw 27,203 jobless claims filed. There were 28,669 jobless claimants the week ending Oct. 17, and 29,029 claims filed the week ending Oct. 10.
With cases and hospitalizations surging to levels not seen since May, Gov. Phil Murphy has been repeatedly pressed on whether he will order new state shutdowns.
Those could include the closures of gyms, theaters and indoor dining, which were only allowed to resume operations around Labor Day weekend—and at reduced capacity. Murphy has not ruled out those options, but stressed that he would like to avoid that route.
With indoor gatherings between friends and family at private residences driving many of the latest COVID-19 outbreaks, Murphy has remained on the fence about reinstituting restrictions. Few if any masks are worn at such gatherings, and attendees are not adhering to 6-foot physical distancing, the governor said. Regulated indoor activities, such as indoor dining, gyms and theaters, are allowed to continue operations because social distancing and mask usage can be enforced, he maintained.
During the height of the first wave of the virus between March and early May, the state mandated the closure of casinos, malls, many forms of construction, sit-down dining, non-essential retailers, nail and hair salons, theaters, and large indoor events. Air travel and public transit tanked as Americans stayed indoors, as did the hotel industry.
For the week ending March 21, 2020, more than 155,000 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment, followed by 206,253 the following week and 214,836 New Jerseyans the first week of April.
Only in September did the unemployment rate fall below Great Recession levels, hitting a benchmark of 6.7% that month. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that during the Great Recession the jobless rate topped off at 9.8% from November 2009 to January 2010.
All told, the state has paid out $18.4 billion in unemployment benefits since March 21, as the pandemic triggered mass business closures in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Most of that was through the $600 payments that Americans received for several months under the federal COVID-19 relief bill. But the payments stopped in July and talks to extend the relief have stalled in Washington. In place of the federal aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent out $300 checks for Americans who’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The payments are capped at six weeks, or $1,800 total, if a person was unemployed during the weeks of Aug. 1 through Sept. 5.
State labor officials said they delivered a combined $1.2 billion of FEMA unemployment relief to 778,000 New Jerseyans.
Another 88,000 New Jerseyans also have the chance to certify for the additional $300. State labor officials said they would notify those residents in the coming weeks via email and text “of this additional chance to attest that their unemployment during the eligible weeks was COVID-19 related.”
“Since the payments made to New Jerseyans to date did not exhaust our FEMA Lost Wage Assistance, we are developing a process for remaining claimants who may be eligible but did not select a COVID-related reason for their unemployment to do so,” New Jersey Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement.
“We’re pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to people who missed the original certification deadline, in hopes that many will meet the federal requirements for eligibility,” he added.