About 41,000 more New Jerseyans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the lowest number of new weekly filings since the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering businesses in March, according to Thursday’s report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Nationally there were 2.44 million new unemployment applicants for the week ending May 16, the U.S. DOL said, and almost 23 million are collecting benefits. About 38 million have applied across the country.

More than 1.1 million people have applied for unemployment in New Jersey since March 15, state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said Thursday during Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily COVID-19 briefing, and 15.3% of New Jerseyans are unemployed.

“That’s a level we haven’t seen since February 1992,” Asaro-Angelo said.

Some of the filers are independent contractors and gig workers who would not normally qualify for unemployment, but who are covered now by the federal government.

According to the U.S. DOL, at its height in the week ending May 9, there were 715,433 people receiving benefits in New Jersey.

For the week ending May 16, the total collecting benefits fell to 601,963 — a drop of 113,470, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

But Asaro-Angelo said the state actually provided benefits to more people last week than the previous week. He speculated the federal number was incomplete.

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday it has paid out $3.4 billion in unemployment benefits “as the global pandemic COVID-19 closed out its ninth week of wreaking havoc on the state’s workforce and economy.”

It also said it had moved 139,000 federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims to payable status, and began reviewing tens of thousands of older claims for extended benefits.

Asaro-Angelo said those 139,000 have not shown up in the state numbers of those receiving benefits yet, as they are certifying and will begin getting paid this week and in coming weeks.

“We’re very pleased to see the balance begin to shift this week with the number of new claims trending downward and the number being processed curving upward,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Our only focus remains getting benefits into the bank accounts of every worker as quickly as possible.”

Asaro-Angelo said the department had also stepped up its communications with claimants by email and text message, giving them information on the status of their applications, including those who had exhausted their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits and are now eligible for federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for 13 more weeks.

“The first group of these workers will be able to certify for benefits on Sunday,” according to a news release from the department.

Part of the 139,000 were 82,000 people who have been waiting weeks for payments but who had been told they had to talk to a state agent. The department said it was waiving the agent contact requirement to get them paid more quickly.

Last week’s number of new applications would have approached previous highs in pre-pandemic times, but in the business shutdown caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it seems tame.

The previous state record was 46,000 filings in a single week after Superstorm Sandy in November 2012, the state Labor Department has said.

In the week ending March 21, N.J. unemployment applications jumped 15-fold, from 9,467 to 155,454. The next two weeks they hit 206,000, and then more than 214,000, which has remained the weekly high so far.

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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