With the pandemic completing its first full year and nearly 100,000 New Jerseyans being out of work the entire time, weekly jobless claims have fallen to their lowest level since the beginning of the public health emergency.
Data released March 4 by the New Jersey Department of Labor found that just 10,384 people filed for unemployment, or 9,214 claims according to the federal labor department. The federal government bases its numbers on “advanced reporting,” hence the difference, according to state labor officials.
Joblessness soared over the past year, as non-essential businesses were forced to close for months on end, and then operate at reduced capacity, all in a bid to starve the COVID-19 virus of any new potential hosts.
Sit-down dining, casinos, salons, gyms, malls and former forms of non-essential retail had to shutter their doors during the first wave last spring, but they’ve been allowed to operate at reduced capacity.
All told, more than 2 million people filed for unemployment over the past year, and the state has dolled out $23.8 billion in federal and state jobless benefits.
Last week, 10,776 people in the state filed for unemployment, sliding down from a spike of new claims just after the holiday season. That’s a far cry from the 155,815 jobless claims for the week of March 21, 2020, when the state was put into a virtual lockdown and the entire economy ground to a halt.
There were 206,253 jobless claims the week ending March 28 and 214,836 claims the week after that. Unemployment soared to an all-time record-high of 16.6% in June, though the rate stands at 7.6% as of January.
Many of the unemployment funds come from federal programs enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, such as unemployment benefits for freelancers.
Those lapse beginning on March 13, but they would be extended until fall under a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden. At least 100,000 New Jerseyans could lose those federal benefits beginning March 13 if nothing is passed.
An added bonus of $300 a week in federal unemployment relief expires this month, and Biden’s plan calls for beefing that up to $400 a week, still down from the $600 in the original CARES Act.
Under new programming the state Labor Department rolled out, those claimants who’ve been receiving benefits for the full year are automatically reviewed for eligibility, or will have their claims automatically filed for them. They are in fact urged to not file a claim or take any actions themselves, as that might “delay their benefits,” the state Labor Department said on March 4.
“Our goal is to make this a seamless transition for the majority of claimants,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a March 4 prepared statement.
“We have been preparing for this eventuality for months, knowing that the tsunami of claims we witnessed last Spring would expire en masse beginning in mid-March.”