N.J. unemployment claims down, but state passes two ugly milestones

Although unemployment claims in New Jersey declined dramatically last week from the previous one, the state reached an unfortunate milestone as it surpassed $9 billion in state and federal payments since the start of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced Thursday.

For the week of June 21-27, New Jersey saw nearly 28,000 initial unemployment claims, a 15% drop from the week of June 14-20. However, that brought the total of new claims to 1.3 million over the 15-week period since March 15.

“New Jersey went from being at almost full employment last winter to double-digit unemployment a few months later,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a prepared statement.

The state said 1.125 million of the people filing claims have met the requirements for benefits, and 96% of them have received payment.

The state announced this week that it will begin providing 20 additional weeks of extended unemployment to workers who have exhausted state and federal benefits, including 26 weeks of state unemployment plus 13 weeks of federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. That gives eligible workers a potential maximum of 59 weeks of benefits.

“Extended benefits are in place for just such eventualities — so that claimants have access to an income safety net for an extended period during times of high unemployment,” Asaro-Angelo said.

Eligible workers are automatically enrolled in the extension, the state noted, and do not need to contact the DOL or reapply.

Eligible workers have received $2.9 billion in state unemployment payments and $6.2 billion in federal benefits through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that initial claims came in at 1.427 million for the week of June 21-27, down 55,000 from the previous week.

The national unemployment level was 13.2% for the week of June 14-20, the most recent figure.