Labor Dept. receives record number of new unemployment insurance claims

The New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development said on Thursday it had received a record number of new unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 21.

The 155,815 new applications, a 1,549% increase over the week before, is evidence of the toll COVID-19 is taking on the state’s workforce and businesses. The department said this is the highest number of single-week claims in history.

For comparison, claims spiked to more than 46,000 in a single week after Superstorm Sandy in November 2012 and hit 25,385 during 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,” Robert Asaro-Angelo, Labor Commissioner, said. “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 state has made efforts to aid those in need by temporarily suspending the “work search requirement” for laid off workers and created a jobs portal with immediate openings in industries on the frontlines of the pandemic. Additionally, applicants in New Jersey do not have to wait before benefits kick in once they are approved.

“The fact that so many New Jersey residents hit by this public health emergency were able to apply for benefits in the past week is evidence the system is working as intended,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Our unemployment fund has a healthy surplus, thanks to our employers and employees, and we are able to meet this challenge head on.”

The data released Thursday showed nearly 105,000 residents are currently collecting unemployment, 3% less than the same period last year.

The claims spike began the week that ended March 14 with 9,467 new claims, an 18% increase over the week ending March 7.

Federally, unemployment claims totaled 3.283 million nationwide, up more than 3 million claims from the prior week. It was a record for seasonally adjusted claims levels, soaring past the prior mark of 695,000 in October 1982.

To fill out an online unemployment application, go to