The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses fueled major increases in the state’s job market, according to data released at a time that a variant-driven surge has ground any new reopenings to a halt.
Data released March 25 by the New Jersey Department of Labor, showed that the state’s job market added just 900 jobs in January, compared to 10,700 new jobs added to the private sector in February.
Leisure and hospitality accounted for more than half of those new jobs in February, making up 6,400 of those new job positions.
Just before the Super Bowl weekend, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order expanding capacity at indoor business operations – including restaurants, casinos, salons, spas, gyms and entertainment venues – from 25% to 35%, and then up to 50% earlier this month.
“Hopefully, the withdrawal of some restrictions on restaurants will result in continuing gains in this area,” said Charles Steindel, the former state economist, in a March 25 statement from the conservative think tank Garden State Initiative.
The data marks potential good news for a job market that flattened between December and February, which made up the worst months of the COVID-19 second wave. New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 7.7% in December, 7.9% in January and 7.8% in February, according to state data.
But Gov. Phil Murphy warned on Monday, March 22 that he would pause COVID-19 business and public gatherings reopenings amid surges driven by the presence of the highly contagious B-1.1.7 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom.
“We want to do this safely, we don’t ever want to have to go back,” he said this week.
Murphy ordered a slew of mass business closures last March in a move to control the pandemic as it spread through the New York City metro area.
Unemployment shot up from 3.7% in March 2020 to 16.3% the next month. It rose even further to an all-time record-high unemployment rate of 16.8% in June, outdoing unemployment surges seen during the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy.
All told, more than 2 million New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment over the past year. The majority of those filings were in the weeks immediately following those mass closures.
A permanent state reopening is contingent on the success of widespread vaccine efforts. State health officials are aiming to have 4.7 million New Jersey adults vaccinated against COVID-19 by some time in June.So far, 1 million adults have been fully vaccinated.
And President Joe Biden has promised that the nation could return to a large semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy by the July 4 Independence Day weekend.
But snags and delays in production of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shots, which only required a single dose, has raised concerns of whether the nation could still reach that goal.e