New Jersey regained 53.7% of the jobs it lost during the past year of business closures and restrictions, making it one of the slowest states to recover from the COVID-19 recession.
All told, more than 2.1 million people in the state have filed for unemployment since March 2020, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered sweeping business closures and restrictions in a bid to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the state.
Since then, the state has given out more than $27 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits, with the unemployment rate surging to all-time record highs in the past 13 months. More than 100,000 people in the state have been without work that entire time, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor.
Business reopenings and pent up demand have fueled job increases in some of the job sectors worst-hit by the closures, such as leisure and hospitality, which includes businesses such as hotels, restaurants, food service, catering and events.
“This is really the start of a very strong bounce-back,” said James Hughes, a planning and public policy professor at Rutgers University, and former dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“It’s based on vaccination levels that have taken place, a lot of consumer savings that took place over the past year, increasing demand for people wanting to get out of the house, go to restaurants, travel, go on vacation. All of those factors together are pushing toward … really good numbers,” Hughes continued.
But the Fitch report ranked New Jersey at 41st place in terms of jobs regained between April 2020 and March 2021. In first place is Idaho, followed by Utah, both of which actually have a larger private sector workforce than when the pandemic first hit. In third place is Montana, which gained back 90.4% of the jobs shed during the pandemic.
Hawaii, with an economy critically dependent on tourism and air travel, fared the worst, having regained just a quarter of the jobs lost over the past year.
Some states with more stringent shutdown measures, like New York and California, fared particularly bad.
Neighboring Delaware and Pennsylvania ranked 21st and 26th respectively in terms of job recovery, while nearby Connecticut ranked 31st, having rebound with 60.3% of the jobs lost.
Some of New Jersey’s newest reopenings go into effect on May 10: Expanded capacity at outdoor gatherings and concert venues, as well as at private indoor catered events.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a more aggressive reopening schedule for indoor businesses, which goes into effect at the start of next month. New York City can begin offering bar seating May 3, Cuomo announced. And a curfew on indoor and outdoor dining is being lifted at the end of next month.
And New York City is fully lifting its COVID-19 restrictions on July 1, said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Murphy has not said where he stands on those kinds of reopening measures, but said on April 28 that the state can expect an “accelerated reopening” as New Jersey ramps up its COVID-19 vaccine efforts and key metrics like daily cases and hospitalizations are brought under control.
“While other states, as well as New York City, announce dates of total reopening, the people of NJ are left in limbo,” reads an April 29 statement from State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-13th District, who accused the Murphy administration of “foot-dragging” the state’s reopening.