New Hampshire jobless claims keep soaring as total nears 100,000

More layoffs, expanded eligibility fuel the continuing increase

Week after week, the tally of initial unemployment claims in New Hampshire keeps getting higher, even after the prior week’s unemployment claims numbers keep getting readjusted upward.

Last week, ending April 4, there were 36,214 new jobless claims filed in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s nearly 5,000 more than the previous week ending March 28 – a total that itself was revised upward by about 4,000 claims. Before that revision, there seemed to be an indication of a slight decline in claims that week, but now it appears to have been steadily increasing in New Hampshire all along.

In all, nearly 97,000 new claims were filed from March 16 to April 4, according to the latest figures. In the previous weeks, the number of weekly claims were above 600, not around 30,000.

Nationally, there were 6.6 million initial claims filed last week, bringing the total claims filed in that three-week period to 16.8 million.

Before this deluge, fewer than 20,000 people were collecting unemployment benefits in New Hampshire. Now there are easily than 100,000 unemployed – a five-fold increase in three weeks.

It is unclear how much this will increase February’s unemployment rate of 2.6% when the state figures for March are released next week, but it is expected to go up some in March and a whole lot in April. Nationally, it went up to 4.4% from 3.5% in February.

Expanded eligibility

Clearly, most of this is being driven by an economy devastated by the coronavirus and the order to close all non-essential businesses. But there are other factors as well.

On March 17, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered that self-employed people (including business owners of companies with employees) and a number of people in other categories – such as farmworkers, domestic workers and paid student interns – be eligible for the first time to collect unemployment benefits. He also ordered that those who were in quarantine or had to take care of someone who is sick or who was sent home because of a school or day care shutdown, could also collect benefits.

The federal government has since followed the state in allowing self-employed benefits, but not many of the other categories, and has required employers to offer sick and family paid leave, to be reimbursed though payroll deductions.

Despite repeated requests, the state Department of Employment Security has not revealed how many of the unemployed are filing under any of the new categories.

The week ending April 3 was the first week that claimants could receive an additional $600 a week, as mandated by the federal CARES Act, though that extra money won’t be paid out for another week. The extra incentive might have fueled an increase in filings as well.

The Department of Employment Security also has not responded to inquiries about how much was claimed, and how much of that would be charged to the state unemployment fund and how much to the federal government. The extent to the drain on the state fund could trigger increases in the base rate of the unemployment tax. On the plus side, the new claims will not count in determining an employer’s experience rate, which is also used to determine how much a company pays in unemployment taxes.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact another federal program enacted to address the coronavirus crisis – the Paycheck Protection Program – will have on unemployment claims. The PPP program rewards employers who retain and bring back employees for at least eight weeks. But businesses only started filing for that program April 3.

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