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NJ unemployment up but rate slows; Atlantic County still hit hard
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NJ unemployment up but rate slows; Atlantic County still hit hard

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A sign announces the closing of Caesars Atlantic City at the Boardwalk entrance.

Another 141,420 New Jerseyans applied for unemployment in the week ending April 11, and Atlantic County continued to get hit harder on a per-capita basis by the unemployment crisis, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Nationally, the government reported 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to 22 million — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. The losses translate to about 1 in 7 American workers.

A total of 718,000 people in New Jersey have filed unemployment claims due to layoffs or furloughs since the start of the COVID-19 shutdown, deepening a historic level of joblessness due to the health crisis.

While the new applications add to the stress on the state system, the weekly number of new applications was down considerably from last week’s 214,836, officials said.

Atlantic County residents accounted for 9,233 of applications, the Labor Department reported, for a total of 35,213 since March 15.

The county has 3% of the state’s population but 6.1% of its unemployment claims so far. By contrast, other counties with similar numbers of filings — Camden, Hudson and Union — have population bases about twice as large as Atlantic County’s.

And Gloucester County, which has virtually the same population base as Atlantic County, accounts for just 19,101 of the total unemployment filings since March 15.

“Thirty-four percent of all jobs in Atlantic County are in at-risk industries,” said economic consultant Rich Perniciaro, of Pleasantville, according to a Brookings Institute study. They are mostly casino jobs and other jobs in the tourism and accommodations industries.

The Brookings study said the metro area from Atlantic City to Hammonton — essentially the whole of Atlantic County — was the nation’s third most at risk for job loss due to COVID-19. The top at-risk area was energy-dependent Midland, Texas, followed by tourism-dependent Kahului, Hawaii. Las Vegas was fourth, followed by Odessa, Texas, another energy area.

“As we get the claimants on unemployment ... a lot of people are worrying about them coming back to work — especially restaurant workers,” Perniciaro said. Many will make more on unemployment, once the federal $600 additional subsidy is included, than they would on the job.

And that could threaten the shore’s summer season, assuming businesses can open in time for it.

Perniciaro is working on a report for the Atlantic County Economic Alliance on business losses due to COVID-19, which will be difficult to predict since there are so many unknowns, such as when businesses will be allowed to open again.

Cape May and Cumberland counties had 2,087 and 2,447 additional unemployment claims this week, and Ocean County (with a population more than twice as large as Atlantic County’s) contributed 12,487 new filers.

A total of 429,388 people statewide are now receiving benefits, the department said, collecting an all-time record of $140.7 million per week. The amount of benefits paid before March 14 was about $46 million per week.

It typically takes two to three weeks to receive an eligibility determination, once all the required information has been submitted, the department said.

Department officials said this week changes had been made to better handle the flood of applications, including reprogramming computers to accept about 60% of the claims that were being kicked back for an agent to review.

Phone lines were added and hundreds of laptops were distributed so more staff could process claims and lend support from home.

The department has not, however, provided data on the number of calls its call center can now handle. Hundreds of applicants have contacted The Press saying they have been told they must speak to a representative before their application can be finalized, but have been unable to get through on the phones for weeks.

The department’s website has fact sheets and other information about the application process at nj.gov/labor, a spokesperson said. It has recently added information on how independent contractors and gig workers can apply for benefits.

“We added an intelligent automated reply for applicants emailing with a specific question or topic of concern,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “I feel confident because of these upgrades many more of our customers can self-serve, and our staff can get to more of those who are unable to resolve their issue with the resources we’ve added.”

New Jersey workers collecting unemployment also saw their first $600 federal supplemental benefit this week. It was for the week starting March 29, and payments will continue weekly through the end of July.

About 92% of new applications are being filed at myunemployment.nj.gov, the department said.

Among the claims processed from March 15 through April 11, the hardest-hit sectors have been food/accommodation services, ambulatory health care (doctors’ and dentists’ offices) personal services (hair and nail salons) and employment agencies.

New Jersey’s jobs portal at jobs.covid19.nj.gov provides information on tens of thousands of immediate openings in industries deemed essential.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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