New Jersey’s jobless rate fell to 10.9 percent for the month of August—the lowest it’s been since March, but still above what New Jersey saw at the height of the Great Recession a decade ago.
According to Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor, 18,845 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment the week ending Sept. 12, a slight dip from the 20,000 figure where the number of claims has hovered for weeks.
All told, nearly 1.6 million New Jerseyans have found themselves out of work since the start of the pandemic, which saw sweeping restrictions on travel, public gatherings and most forms of business, meant to starve the COVID-19 virus of any new potential hosts to infect.
Those restrictions have only gradually been lifted beginning in mid-June.
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. Before that, it last reached a high-point during the U.S. oil crisis in the 1970s, topping off at 10.7 percent from November 1976 to January 1977.
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.
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.
Since March 21, the state paid out $15.4 billion in jobless aid, most of it from now-expired $600 weekly federal stimulus checks. That Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is being replaced with a $300 a week expansion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will last just six weeks and likely be paid in a single lump sum.
Upwards of 40,000 New Jerseyans have not received a single unemployment check in months even though they should have, New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo told state lawmakers on Tuesday. Many claimants have complained of difficulty getting anyone on the phone to help despite hundreds of calls a day, or not connecting with a person who knows anything about their claim.
Claims have taken months, many New Jerseyans said.
An April report from NorthJersey.com highlighted how the Murphy administration and that of his predecessor, Gov. Chris Christie, were repeatedly advised to update the department’s antiquated system to move away from reliance on COBOL, a 60-year-old computer language. But, speaking earlier this week, Asaro-Angelo cautioned that most of the delays stem from a litany of federal regulations that needlessly complicate the unemployment application process.
Meaningful reform, he told lawmakers, would have to come at the federal level.
“It doesn’t matter how nice a computer system you have. Individual claimant’s issues aren’t about technology, they’re about the … eligibility standards they need to meet,” the commissioner said. “And that’s why it’s so hard to write computer programs for them because the number of inputs and factors that go into creating some of the UI eligibility … are almost infinite.”