Nearly a third of New Jersey’s workforce filed for jobless claims in the three months since the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global recession slammed the state, which resulted in a 15.2 percent unemployment rate in May, according to state labor officials.
As of June 18, a total of 1.24 million workers in New Jersey – 28 percent of the labor force – filed for jobless claims, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
For the week ending June 13, a total of 25,810 new claimants filed for jobless benefits, according to Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The state saw 23,166 jobless claims the week before, or an increase of nearly 9 percent, but still far below the hundreds of thousands of new jobless claims.
May’s 15.2 percent unemployment rate was down 1.1 percent from Aprils 16.3 percent.
State labor officials revised the unemployment rate that month up from 15.3 percent, which, either way, marks record-high unemployment rates for the state New Jersey dating back to when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking state-by-state labor data in 1976.
Virtually all of new claims were from workers who were laid off or furloughed since mid-March as a direct result of a host of restrictions put in place on what kinds of businesses could stay open, in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Those closures applied to dine-in restaurants, non-essential retail, bars, casinos, malls, nail and hair salons, most forms of construction, and indoor and outdoor amusement activities such as golf courses theme parks, and gyms.
But between April and May, the state’s private sector added 86,000 new jobs, bringing the total labor workforce to just shy of 3.5 million—or 10 percent of the number of jobs lost to the pandemic in March and April.
As of June 18, the state paid out $7.2 billion in jobless benefits, most of it under the added $600 a week outlined under federal expansions, as well as unemployment aid for independent contractors out of work because of the pandemic, and residents who burnt through their benefits leading into the pandemic.
State labor officials said they plan to borrow $1.7 billion from the federal government to cover the costs of jobless benefits between August and October.
“The volume of claims continues to be staggering, well beyond anything the states could have been prepared for,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement.
The unemployment system has been plagued with complaints about weeks of delays before jobless benefits are issued and outdated technology. Claimants have also been critical about difficulties with getting in touch with a live human being to assist with their claim.
“It’s gut-wrenching to hear from people whose claim is not resolved, who can no longer make ends meet,” Asaro-Angelo added. “We want those people to know we are making [information technology] improvements every day, bringing on more people every day, to get to every claim still waiting for a determination.”
New jobless claims plateaued in recent weeks. Most labor insiders, though, have chalked that up to a saturation of just how many more people are in a position to be laid off or furloughed.
New Jersey entered “Stage 2” of its reopening on June 15, allowing sit-down restaurants and non-essential retailers to open their doors, albeit at reduced capacity. Personal services such as spas, hair and nail salons will be allowed to resume operations on June 22, but also at a limited capacity.
But the overall reopening could be slow-going, as the governor takes a drawn out approach to lifting restrictions, amid potential lapses in consumer confidence whether partaking in those kinds of activities could pose health risks.