The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development received 155,815 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending March 21 – a 1,546 percent increase over the previous week – and stark evidence of how dramatically COVID-19 has begun to impact the state’s workforce and businesses.
This is by far the Labor Department’s highest total of single-week claims in memory. Initial claims spiked past 46,000 in a single week after Superstorm Sandy in November 2012, and shot up to 25,385 for a week in July 2010, the low point of the last recession.
“We understand the anxiety, uncertainty and fear out there among residents who have been laid off suddenly or seen their hours reduced,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “Despite some challenges our systems are experiencing due to volume, Labor Department staff are working continuously to meet the needs of all of our customers, and get benefits to everyone who deserves them as soon as possible.”
The number of initial unemployment claims in New Jersey began to spike in the week ending March 14, when the state saw 9,467 initial claims filed, a roughly 18 percent increase in new claims over the week ending March 7.
New Jersey has temporarily suspended the “work search requirement” for laid-off workers. The state has also created a jobs portal at jobs.covid19.nj.gov to match residents who are looking for work with immediate openings in industries on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Asaro-Angelo said the unemployment fund has a healthy surplus to meet the needs of unemployed residents.
Unemployment applicants in New Jersey do not have to wait a week before benefits are paid once they are approved. An extension of benefits beyond the currently allowable 26 weeks will likely be forthcoming, officials said.
Applicants can file for benefits online at nj.gov/labor. Officials said applications should try to file for benefits at night or early in the morning because of the large number of applicants using the website. Applicants should also not repeatedly log in to check the status of an application in order to ease the website’s traffic.
The state has set up a central business portal that has comprehensive information for businesses and residents at jobs.covid19.nj.gov.