Amid soaring joblessness in New Jersey and nationwide as the COVID-19 recession takes hold in every part of the country, the state’s unemployment rate is likely on course to blow past what was seen during the Great Recession.
That is according to a Friday report from the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.
In March, New Jersey’s unemployment rate held at 3.8 percent, and last summer was its lowest since the state first started recording those numbers in 1976.
But there are now 930,000 New Jerseyans without work, which according to NJPP spells out a 1,500 percent increase between February and April.
At the height of the Great Recession, New Jersey’s unemployment rates slowly crept up to 9.8 percent between November 2009 and January 2010. During the bursting of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s, New Jersey’s unemployment rate peaked at 6 percent between May 2003 and July 2003.
Statewide unemployment rates for the prior month typically come out in the middle of the following month, so April numbers will come out by mid-May.
Nationwide, roughly 30 million Americans have lost their job as the COVID-19 pandemic and government responses – closing businesses en mass and enacting stay-at-home orders – have ground commerce to a halt.
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.
“The overwhelming number of UI claims has placed an enormous strain on the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development,” the NJPP report reads. “New Jersey’s UI system is collapsing under the weight of so many applications, due in part to dated technology and a department staff that is 25 percent lower than it was over a decade ago.”
The state labor department said that between April 20 and April 24, it 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 April 10.
Freelancers, independent contractors and self-employed residents will see their long-awaited unemployment payments on May 5, under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, a federal pot of money for gig workers who’ve lost their income during the COVID-19 recession.
Roughly 622,000 jobless residents were receiving benefits, Gov. Phil Murphy said at a Friday afternoon press conference. The remaining 200,000 unresolved claims were among freelancers, gig workers and self-employed people.
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.