New weekly jobless claims have reached their lowest point since the onset of the pandemic nearly a year ago, according to data posted on Feb. 18 by the federal and state labor departments.
As of the week ending Feb. 13, – 10,962 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment, according to data from the federal Department of Labor – or 11,563 claims according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The federal government bases its numbers on “advanced reporting,” hence the difference, according to the state Labor Department.
There were over 16,000 jobless claims the week before and for several weeks in January, and total jobless claims stayed above 20,000 per week as the holiday season wound down.
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 filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment soared to an all-time record-high of 16.6% in June.
Last week the state gave out $455 million in state and federal unemployment benefits – a total of $22.8 billion since last March. The agency has been plagued by delays and computer errors, which has resulted in many claimants waiting weeks or months for their checks.
“Department of Labor staff are reminded every day of the tremendous toll COVID-19 is taking on New Jersey workers and businesses,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Feb. 18 statement.
Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans risk losing their unemployment benefits altogether if Congress does not agree on a new federal COVID-19 federal relief bill.
The existing programs extended in late December by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act lapse starting next month. Talks are underway in Congress and the White House for a proposed $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by President Joe Biden.
One key benefit that could expire on March 13 is the $300 per week in added federal jobless aid, down from $600 under the original CARES Act. Biden has proposed an additional $400 a week.
Another soon-to-expire “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” program, which provides jobless aid to freelancers, sole proprietors and part-time workers. A third is an 11-week extension of unemployment assistance. Enrollment in that program is automatic, but like the other two programs, eligibility lapses at some point between March 13 and April 11.
State labor officials said that they had to scramble to update their computer systems because of Trump’s last-minute approval of the CARES Act. That led to delays in the $300 checks going out, and weeks where 75,000 New Jerseyans enrolled went without any financial assistance, according to the Labor Department.
“That’s why we are pushing forward on dual fronts – first, and foremost, serving workers in need, and secondly, urging Congress to pass a new, comprehensive and long-term relief bill before current benefits expire on March 13, which could leave millions of workers across the country temporarily and devastatingly without benefits,” the labor commissioner added.