New weekly jobless claims have surged week over week as the state pushes past 246,000 people that have been claiming jobless benefits for more than a year, according to state and federal labor officials.
According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, weekly claims hit an all-time low on the week of March 6, when just 9,840 people filed for unemployment.
The new surges come as the state pushes into its 13th month of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to drag out mass business shutdowns and keep the economy on pause.
All told, more than 2 million New Jerseyans have sought unemployment assistance since March 2020, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered sweeping closures and restrictions on businesses like restaurants, retail, salons and barbershops, casinos, malls, gyms and theaters.
Unemployment shot up from 3.7% in March 2020 to 16.3% the next month. It rose even further to an all-time record-high unemployment rate of 16.8% in June, outdoing unemployment surges seen during the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy.
While a relaxation of restrictions on indoor dining led to an increase in new restaurant and dining job positions opening up, Murphy has warned that he would pause business reopenings amid the latest wave, which health officials say is driven by the dominance of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom.
Murphy has also relaxed the capacity at indoor and outdoor venues like concert arenas, and raised the outdoor gathering capacity.
Mass vaccination efforts are key to building herd immunity against the variant and allowing a rollback of many restrictions. The goal is to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by the end of June, of which the state has reached nearly 2 million arms. But that process has hit a snag, with vaccine supply expected to plummet this month.
Since the onset of the pandemic over a year ago, the state has given out $26 billion in unemployment benefits, most of it from federal COVID-relief programs like the added $300 or $600 a week, as well as federal extensions and special benefits for freelancers and part-time workers.
Still, the system has been plagued by delays and bureaucratic snags, leaving many residents going weeks or months without a check and with no luck getting answers or updates.
However, an automatic review and re-filing system within the state Labor Department means that benefits for more than 246,000 claimants were automatically removed over the past five weeks, according to labor officials. The process “could have taken up to three months without this upgrade in place,” the Thursday statement reads.