N.J. sees dip in new unemployment claims as state added thousands of jobs in March

As New Jersey’s economy begins reawakening and adds jobs, new unemployment filings dipped for the first time in three weeks.

The state Department of Labor received 11,344 new unemployment claims, a 43% decline from the previous week. It’s a steep drop from where the state was a year ago — 141,420 claims were filed the week of April 11, 2020.

Schools are returning from spring break, with some districts returning to in-person classes, and restrictions are slowly lifting as vaccinations steadily continue, fueling the drop in new filings, the Labor Department said.

“While the number of people filing new claims for unemployment has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the numbers are thankfully much lower than what we were witnessing a year ago. That’s great news for some residents, but the financial hardship of not having a job is still a reality for too many of our friends, neighbors and family,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Thursday New Jersey gained 20,800 jobs in March, largely in the private sector. Cumulatively, the state has recovered 384,900 jobs — about 54% — since the coronavirus pandemic led to mass unemployment in March 2020.

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The state’s unemployment rate decreased slightly to 7.7%, in March. It was 7.8% in February.

The largest increases were in leisure and hospitality, which gained 5,700 jobs, and education and health services, adding 4,200 jobs. The construction sector gained 3,800 jobs, followed by the trade, transportation and utility sector at 3,300 jobs. Manufacturing, information, financial activities and professional services all saw gains as well, and “other services” was the only private sector to report a loss.

Public sector employment also increased by 800 jobs in March, the bureau said.

“We must continue to work together to make sure every resident has the opportunity to return to work, and experience the dignity that a steady job provides,” Asaro-Angelo continued.

And as some claimants reach the benefit year mark on their claims, the state Labor Department is actively working to automatically refile the claims after a federally-mandated review. Claimants should not reopen their year-old claims, as it can cause delays since it’s automated.

The process could have taken up to three months without the new automation, which has extended more than 275,000 claims in the last six weeks.

Still, thousands of claimants have experienced issues with their claims, whether that’s answering a weekly certification wrong that results in the filing being pulled for a fraud check, or technological issues with the website. The department says 96% of filers have received at least one payment.

The department distributed $416 million in benefits, bringing the total amount dispersed to unemployed residents to $62.5 billion. The average claimant has collected $17,600 in benefits.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her at @snietomunoz.

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