NJ pandemic jobless claims hitting new lows

Daniel J. Munoz//February 26, 2021

NJ pandemic jobless claims hitting new lows

Daniel J. Munoz//February 26, 2021

New weekly jobless claims in New Jersey are continuing to hit all-time lows during the pandemic, as state officials begin to slowly roll back business restrictions and ramp up the vaccine efforts meant to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check.

Data released Feb. 25 by the federal and state labor departments showed there were 10,041 or 10,776 unemployment claims for the week ending Feb. 20.

The federal government bases its numbers on “advanced reporting,” hence the difference, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. 

During the onset of mass business closures in March, weekly jobless claims soared to all-time record-highs.

For the week ending March 21, 2020, there were 155,815 jobless claims, followed by 206,253 jobless claims the week ending March 28 and 214,836 claims the week after that. More than 2 million people have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment soared to an all-time record-high of 16.6% in June, though the rate stands at 7.6% as of January.

Sit-down dining, casinos, salons, gyms, malls and former forms of non-essential retail had to shutter their doors during the first wave last spring, driving up unemployment. They’ve since been allowed to operate at reduced capacity.

Jobless claims last peaked shortly after the holiday season, when there were 21,833 claims for the week ending Jan. 9.

All told, the state Labor Department has distributed more than $23 billion of jobless benefits in the past year.

Many of those funds come from federal programs enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, such as unemployment benefits for freelancers.

Those lapse beginning on March 13, but they would be extended until fall under a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden. At least 100,000 New Jerseyans could lose those federal benefits beginning March 13 if nothing is passed.

“As this pandemic continues to be felt by workers across the state, we have maximized our resources to serve those in need,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Feb. 25 statement.

“Our department has tripled the number of staff supporting unemployment, and we continue to hire new employees to meet the historic volume of long-term claims. As public servants, our only mission is to get the most money to the most eligible residents in the shortest amount of time.”

On Feb. 24, the Assembly Labor Committee approved a measure allocating $50 million in federal funds to upgrade the state’s beleaguered computer system, which has been faulted for many of the delays and red tape for people to get their jobless aid.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s $44.8 billion spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year starting on July 1 includes less than $8 million for such upgrades.

“[D]oing a complete overhaul at the state level, in the absence of a federal overhaul to the unemployment benefits system is, at least to some extent, throwing good money after bad. The feds need to boil the system down to its essential parts and rebuild it in a 21st Century reality,” the governor stated in his Feb. 23 budget address.