New Jersey has one of the worst job recoveries from the COVID-19 recession, according to one report, and bears considerable economic inequality according to another.
On Sept. 2, Philadelphia think tank Pew Charitable Trusts ranked all 50 states in their employment levels compared to 2019. It found New Jersey’s employment levels declined 6.3% since then, ahead only of Rhode Island, California, Hawaii and Nevada.
The latter two states were heavily dependent on tourism, hospitality and travel; sectors that were pummeled by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass business closures, bans on non-essential travel and overall anxiety surrounding travel.
For comparison, overall employment in the United States was 4.3% less than in 2019, while states like Kansas and Alaska have fared the best in terms of job rebounds.
“The governor shut down the state early on, so our businesses closed for a significant amount of time, probably longer than most states were closed. And he was very reluctant to open and he was very cautious to open” said Tom Bracken, who heads the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
While that helped keep COVID-19 from overwhelming hospitals, it nonetheless dealt severe blows to the state economy, Bracken noted.
The state’s unemployment rate stands at 7.3%, making it the fifth-highest in the nation. It peaked at 16.6% in April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 business closures put into place.
Bracken suggested that Murphy needs to pump more money – upwards of $2 billion – into businesses to help them recover.
The funds so far, be it from the Trump or Biden-era pots of money, haven’t been enough to meet current demand, Bracken said, “because the grants are very heavily oversubscribed.”
New Jersey recovered an estimated 62% of the 717,000 jobs lost in March and April 2020, when the state was put in a virtual lockdown and the economy in suspended animation, according to a Sept. 6 report from the progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.
But there are an estimated 287,000 jobs not yet recovered, NJPP noted, with many of the people affected being women and people of color, such as restaurants, leisure and hospitality which remain 20% below pre-pandemic levels.
“The workforce in this industry includes a disproportionately large share of women, people of color, young adults, and low-paid workers,” said Vineeta Kapahi, a policy analyst with NJPP. “Even within this sector, workers earning the lowest wages as well as women and people of color experienced the greatest losses.”
Women made up 54% of all jobless claims, Hispanic workers made up 23% of claims, and Black workers nearly 20%. Black workers were 77% more likely to be unemployed in 2020, the report found, and Hispanic workers 60% more likely.
Kapahi cautioned that these numbers, combined with the delta variant spread, meant the pandemic and economic conditions were “far from over” for many New Jerseyans. The lapse of the $300 per week and other federal benefits, she said, did not “reflect economic and public health conditions.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article indicated that Pew Charitable Trusts was based in Washington, D.C., it is not; it is based in Philadelphia. It was updated ta 10:55 a.m. EST on Sept. 8, 2021.