Despite record-high nationwide unemployment, New Jersey saw a steep drop in the number of people seeking jobless claims last week as the COVID-19 pandemic slams the breaks on nationwide commerce, according to federal labor data released Thursday.
For the week ending April 25, a total of 71,017 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment, compared to 140,139 state residents who applied for jobless benefits the week ending April 18, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
That brings the total number of jobless claims in New Jersey to almost 930,000 since the pandemic hit New Jersey nearly six weeks ago, and Gov. Phil Murphy enacted a virtual statewide lock down and sweeping restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
Nationwide, more than 30 million Americans filed for unemployment since the onset of the pandemic. But 3.8 million Americans sought jobless claims last week, still 603,000 lower than the 4.4 million applications filed the week ending April 18.
Efforts by Murphy and governors across the country have shown signs of hammering down the new number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. But, they’ve triggered soaring joblessness, with many employees furloughed or laid off as businesses remain indefinitely closed.
To avoid risk of exposure to COVID-19, many more people opt to stay indoors rather than leave home and spend money – or they have lost their jobs and in turn, tightened their belts.
Numbers from the state’s labor department differ from those at the federal level because the USDOL uses “advanced report,” according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The state’s numbers peg the number of claims from last week at 71,996.
Labor officials ensured that since Murphy’s March 16 stay-at-home order, the state paid out $1.4 billion in benefits to unemployed and furloughed workers. That includes $727 million from the state’s own pool of money, and $690 million from the additional $600 per week checks that started going out earlier in April.
Between April 20 and 24, the state paid out $211.1 million of jobless benefits, compared to $179.7 million the week before that, and $140.7 million between April 6 and 10.
Freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed residents will see their long-awaited unemployment payments on May 5.
New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Wednesday morning statement that his department has spent the past month working to get the state’s expanded unemployment “up and running.”
“We know that people are anxious to receive these benefits – and we want to get benefits out the door as quickly as possible – but we had to build from scratch a process to determine eligibility, protect claimants’ personal information, prevent fraud and distribute these new benefits,” he added.
New Jersey’s unemployment fund clocks in at $2.4 billion, and Murphy has indicated that the state would likely have to borrow from the federal government to shore up that pot of money.
This week, the governor unveiled a 21-member commission, including five members of his cabinet and various state business officials, to gauge the order in which businesses could be reopened in New Jersey, and how to kickstart the economy.
But before that can even happen, there are four milestones the state needs to reach so that restrictions can be rolled back—a process which would take a “number of weeks, not months.”
They include two weeks of consistent declines in new cases and hospitalizations, an expansion of the state’s testing and quicker turnaround for results, and the ability to use contact tracing to track down and isolate potential COVID-19 positives.
The recommendations from the committee are the fifth step in the reopening process, and the sixth is the creation of a “pandemic playbook” to handle how the state would respond to a widely-anticipated second wave COVID-19 later this year.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:26 a.m. EST on April 30, 2020 to include unemployment data and comments from the New Jersey Department of Labor.