New Jobless Claims Drop In NJ As COVID-19 Recession Plateaus

NJBIZ — May 28, 2020

By: Daniel J. Munoz

Despite record-high unemployment, New Jersey saw its lowest number of new jobless claims since mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic tapers off and restrictions on businesses are slowly lifted.

Thursday morning data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that for the week ending on May 23, 33,290 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment.

Nearly 1.2 million state residents have been laid off or furloughed since mid-March when a host of restrictions were put in place on what businesses could stay open in efforts to curb the spread of the virus. That has included dine-in restaurants, non-essential retail, bars, casinos, malls, nail and hair salons, most forms of construction, indoor and outdoor amusement activities such as golf courses and theme parks, and gyms.

But the latest numbers mark "the lowest weekly total since mid-March," when during the week ending March 8, the state saw only 9,348 jobless claims, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor.

For the week ending May 16, 42,365 New Jerseyans filed for unemployment; 69,689 for the week ending May 9; 87,540 for the week ending May 2; 71,017 the week ending April 25; and 139,277 the week ending April 18.

Last week, the state's unemployment reached 15.3 percent, the highest-ever since at least the global energy crisis in the 1970s.

State labor officials did not immediately return inquiries on the new data trends.

According to Thursday data from the state labor department, 1.17 million jobless claims were being paid out. The department said earlier this month that it would likely be paying out one million unemployment claims per week by mid-June.

As of Thursday, $4.1 billion in jobless benefits were being paid out, $1.6 billion from the state's own unemployment fund, and $2.5 billion from the federal expansion outlined under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. It also includes $247 million in benefits that have been paid out under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends jobless benefits to previously ineligible freelancers and independent contractors.

"Our department has made major strides over the past two weeks in getting more benefits to more eligible New Jerseyans," Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a Thursday statement. "We have cleared many of the claims that had issues, have now paid out most of the PUA claims, and have started to process extended benefits."

Gov. Phil Murphy has only just this month begun rolling back restrictions that were put in place in March on businesses and mass gatherings in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus.

Memorial Day weekend was the first litmus test for what a summer of COVID-19 could look like, but according to Murphy, the lackluster turnout was more because of rainy weekend weather rather than business closures.

If the roll-back does affect the state's unemployment rate in May — for better or for worse — that data would not be available until mid-June.

April was the first full month that the restrictions were in effect.

"At a certain point you start to hit saturation of people who are out of work," said Yarrow William-Cole, the workplace justice director at New Jersey Citizen Action.

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