NJ unemployment falls below Great Recession rate for 1st time amid COVID (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//October 15, 2020//

NJ unemployment falls below Great Recession rate for 1st time amid COVID (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//October 15, 2020//

Listen to this article

New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell to 6.7% for the month of September, measuring below rates seen at the height of the Great Recession for the first time since March, according to the state labor department.

The jobless rate stood at 11.1% in August, revised 0.2% higher from what the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development released last month, according to a Thursday morning report.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that during the Great Recession the jobless rate topped off at 9.8% 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% from November 1976 to January 1977.

Unemployment rose to a record-breaking 16.3% in April, and then set another new record in June with a 16.8% jobless rate; going into the pandemic it was 3.7%.

According to Thursday morning data from the federal labor department, thousands more New Jerseyans continue to file for unemployment assistance every week: More than 28,000 the week ending Oct. 10, and nearly 24,000 during the week ending Oct. 3.

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.

Since March 21, the state paid out more than $16 billion in jobless benefits, most of it through the weekly $600 in federal unemployment relief, which expired in July, while Congress and the White House remain at a stalemate over how to extend federal COVID-19 relief. The added federal unemployment relief is being replaced with a $300 a week expansion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will last just six weeks and be paid in a single lump sum the week of Oct. 19. The maximum benefit amount available works out to $1,800.

“Folks are desperate. Something has to get done. We’ve got to stop playing politics with this and get this done,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a Thursday morning appearance on CNBC’s segment “Squawk Box.”

On Thursday, the state labor department said it expects $1.5 billion of FEMA benefits to be paid out to New Jerseyans.

Roughly 842,000 New Jerseyans were without a job during the six-week period – Aug. 1 through Sept. 5 – during which someone would have to be unemployed to qualify for FEMA aid.

“Most had already declared their joblessness to be COVID-related, and will receive the benefit automatically,” reads a Thursday statement. “Only those who have not already affirmed a COVID-related reason for their unemployment will have to attest as such to be eligible.”

An average of $11,960 in jobless aid was paid out to New Jerseyans, the state labor department added.

All told, more than 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. Businesses such as restaurants, casinos, malls, gyms, nail and hair salons, non-essential retailers, indoor entertainment, and theaters all had to shutter their doors or dramatically scale back operations to comply with the shutdown orders. Those restrictions have only gradually been lifted beginning in mid-June.

Amid resurgent outbreaks across Lakewood and Central Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has maintained that any new restrictions would likely be done on a local, community basis, rather than at the statewide level.

Many claimants have complained of delays in jobless benefits lasting weeks or months.

More than 1.4 million New Jerseyans have qualified for unemployment, and 96 percent have gotten at least one check, the state labor department said.

Still, that means roughly 57,000 New Jerseyans haven’t gotten a single unemployment check.

“Newly laid-off workers are anxious to know whether they are eligible for benefits and how much they will receive, so we are constantly improving technology and adding applications to get them answers,” New Jersey Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a statement earlier this month.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:24 p.m. EST on Oct. 15, 2020, to include remarks from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $300 per week unemployment expansion.