New Jersey’s most recent jobless claims soared to a high not seen since July Fourth weekend, according to the latest figures from the state labor department – even as the unemployment rate hits its lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.
Federal unemployment data released Thursday morning show that 26,317 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment the week ending Sept. 26, compared to just over 25,000 the week before.
State unemployment data show weekly jobless claims were half that – at nearly 14,000 – over a month ago, ending Aug. 8. The jobless rate shot up to more than 47,000 the week ending July 4—nearly 20,000 additional claims from the week before.
State labor officials said that the recent spikes in new jobless claims come from a rise in enrollment in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, a federal jobless benefit created in March as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for freelancers, independent contractor, sole proprietors and self-employed individuals.
Whether the new raw numbers will reflect in the monthly unemployment rate will not be known for several weeks—the state labor department will publish New Jersey’s September unemployment rate on Oct. 15.
The current rate stands at 10.9 percent as of August—the lowest it’s been since the pandemic hit in March, but still above what New Jersey saw at the height of the Great Recession a decade ago.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that during the Great Recession the jobless rate topped off at 9.8 percent from November 2009 to January 2010.
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.
All told, nearly 1.6 million New Jerseyans have found themselves out of work since the start of the pandemic, which saw sweeping restrictions – that have since been gradually lifted beginning in mid-June – on travel, public gatherings and most forms of business.
Many claimants have complained of delays in jobless benefits lasting weeks or months.
Roughly 1.4 million New Jerseyans have qualified for unemployment, and 96 percent have gotten at least one check, the state labor department said.
Still, that means roughly 56,000 New Jerseyans haven’t gotten a single unemployment check.
“Newly laid-off workers are anxious to know whether they are eligible for benefits and how much they will receive, so we are constantly improving technology and adding applications to get them answers,” New Jersey
Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement.
“Recent innovations by our IT team have enabled us to move thousands of appointments online and shave several weeks off the wait time to resolve certain complex claims,” he added.
Unemployment rose to a record-breaking 16.3 percent in April, and then set another new record in June with a 16.8 percent jobless rate. It was 13.8 percent in July; going into the pandemic it was 3.7 percent.
During those seven months, the state labor department paid out $15.9 billion in state benefits, the largest portion of that from the $600 in weekly unemployment relief laid out in the CARES Act.
That expired at the end of July, and has been replaced by a stopgap, $300 in additional benefits a week from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. New Jerseyans will get six weeks worth of the additional aid in a lump sum at some point in October, Asaro-Angelo said.