More than 155,000 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment last week – the highest number in at least a decade – as tens of thousands of businesses across the state have been ordered to close amid the COVID-19 outbreak and millions of residents are told to stay at home.
During the week of March 15 to 21, New Jerseyans filed 155,815 claims—a 1,546 percent increase over the 9,467 filed the week before, according to Thursday morning data from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Mandated closures have touched the personal care, entertainment, and the restaurant and hospitality industries.
Nationwide, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in that same week; the previous high was 695,000 in October of 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Dow Jones predicted last week’s claims would only be half that, with roughly 1.5 million Americans filing for unemployment.
The highest number of unemployment claims that New Jerseyans filed in a single week was 46,000 in November 2012, following Superstorm Sandy, according to the NJDOLWD. In a single week in July 2010, at the height of the Great Recession, 25,385 state residents filed for unemployment.
Gov. Phil Murphy first ordered the closures of casinos, theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants – except for takeout – on March 16. He then ordered the closures of all malls, and afterward the closure of “personal care businesses” such as barber shops, salons and tattoo parlors.
The most sweeping restrictions came on March 21, when Murphy ordered the closure of any other “non-essential” retail, and a stay-at-home mandate except for necessary travel.
On March 15, 15,000 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment, which briefly crashed the state labor department’s online system. Since then, there have been “intermittent slowdowns and outages,” according to a statement from Angela Delli-Santi, a spokesperson for the state labor department.
To handle the surge of claims, the department announced on March 22 that it would stagger the times that one could file for unemployment based on the last four digits of their Social Security number.
“[O]ur systems are older and are being stressed, as of those of many other states. But we have added capacity, are constantly monitoring, and have processed a record number of claims. We have a team of dedicated employees who are working overtime to process claims,” Delli-Santi added.
A $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package being fast-tracked through Congress aims to help prop up many of those businesses, make up for lost income to residents via direct checks, and shore up unemployment funds.
The bill calls for $260 billion to expand the federal unemployment insurance program so that workers who have lost their jobs could receive an additional $600 above their base unemployment compensation. That would last through July, or four additional months, during which time those workers would receive their entire regular take-home pay.
It would also apply to self-employed and “gig economy” freelance workers.
Murphy has maintained that the state’s $2.4 billion uninsurance fund “should be fine,” but only if there is financial help from the federal government.
A report by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, found that upward of 14 million Americans might lose their jobs by the summer, more than 379,000 of which would be from New Jersey.