Atlantic City Virus

The casino floor at Caesars Atlantic City has been closed since March 16.

As unemployment claims slow statewide in New Jersey, the wreckage of business closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains increasingly clear in deep South Jersey.

Atlantic County remains one of the hardest-hit metropolitan areas in the U.S., with an unemployment rate double that of the state and nation at 33.3%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The DOL reported Thursday that New Jersey had 25,632 new filers in the week ending May 30. That’s the smallest number since the pandemic’s effects started throwing people out of work March 15.

In the U.S., claims jumped by almost 1.9 million, also a slowing from the previous week, bringing the seasonally adjusted national insured unemployment rate to 14.8%, up slightly from the week before.

The latest numbers from U.S. DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show the Atlantic City to Hammonton metropolitan area (encompassing most of the county) had the third highest jump in year-over-year unemployment in the nation, up 29.1% over April 2019, according to BLS.

The Ocean City statistical area, which encompasses much of Cape May County, has an unemployment rate of 26.6%, almost as high as Atlantic City’s, according to the BLS.

By comparison, the Vineland-Millville-Bridgeton metro area (covering most of Cumberland County) had an unemployment rate only slightly higher than the nation’s at 16.2%, according to BLS.

“In the national parlance, (Atlantic and Cape May county jobs) are nonessential,” said economist Rich Perniciaro, a consultant who does work for counties here. “Cumberland ... has a lot of food processing — essential businesses.”

He said tourism dominates Atlantic and Cape May counties, and their futures will depend on how willing people are to get back out and spend discretionary income as businesses reopen. He is keeping a close eye on how things go as Las Vegas starts to reopen. Casinos there resumed some operations Thursday.

“As long as Atlantic especially and Cape May are not as diverse and rely on what is a high-risk, high-return business — what tourism and travel is — when things are good they are really good. When people are not doing nonessential things, they are going to suffer inordinately,” Perniciaro said.

The Atlantic City area, like gambling and tourism spots around the country, has been hit particularly hard by business closings related to COVID-19, with casino closings alone accounting for a loss of 27,000 jobs.

The two highest year-over-year jumps in unemployment were in Kahului-Wiluku-Lahaina in Hawaii, up 32.5% compared to last April; and Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise in Nevada, up 29.5%.

Last week’s filings set a new low for post-pandemic unemployment filing in New Jersey, but it still added to the number of people needing help in the COVID-19 crisis. The total number of people applying since March 15 is about 1.2 million, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The state DOL reported Thursday it has distributed $5.2 billion in unemployment benefits in the 11 weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown “crippled the state’s businesses and workforce.”

All 70,000 workers who had exhausted their benefits have now been notified to start certifying for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, according to state DOL spokesperson Angela Delli-Santi, which provides 13 weeks of additional benefits due to the pandemic.

The federal DOL said no one had yet collected on those benefits in New Jersey as of May 16.

The state said last week was the first week the new federal benefit was available in New Jersey and more than 7,000 certified for benefits, so they will begin receiving payments soon.

“This pandemic has been especially difficult financially for claimants who had exhausted their unemployment benefits before it hit and had to greatly reduce their work search because of the health crisis,” said state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “While we continue to make important strides in serving our customers, we won’t rest until every eligible claimant receives every penny they deserve.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

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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