Department of Employment Security

New Hampshire Employment Security has processed a record number of new jobless claims over the past two months.

The first supplemental $600 federal weekly unemployment payments are expected to be electronically transferred into at least some people’s bank accounts starting Friday.

The news follows a Thursday report that last week’s fresh job filings brought the state’s four-week total to nearly 124,000 residents — equivalent to the population of Manchester and Amherst.

Since March 17, Employment Security has sent 125,000 payments to residents totaling $35 million.

That doesn’t include the $600-a-week that unemployed recipients will receive under the federal program. Those payments date back to the week ending April 4, so some people will get two weeks of payments, or $1,200.

“NHES is working to release the first round of $600 payments on Friday,” Employment Security Deputy Commissioner Rich Lavers said in an interview.

Anyone eligible for an unemployment benefit, including those receiving a partial benefit from working part-time hours, is eligible for the entire $600 federal payment, said Lavers, who won’t know until Friday morning how many payments will be in the first batch.

About 90% of people collecting unemployment receive payments through direct deposit rather than paper checks.

The coronavirus pandemic, which prompted businesses to close and many people to stay at home in the state and around the world, caused about 22 million Americans to file for unemployment in about a month’s time, including more than 5.2 million people last week.

The unemployment number for the week ending April 4, a record high for New Hampshire, was revised upward Thursday by 2,988 filings to 39,202, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Government restrictions that started in mid-March in New Hampshire to lessen the health effects of COVID-19 shuttered many businesses and left more than 120,000 people without jobs.

“There’s no doubt that we are hard-hit here to be absolutely sure, as is everybody across the country,” Gov. Chris Sununu said at a news conference.

A Wallethub survey ranked New Hampshire as one of the nation’s hardest-hit states for unemployment vs. a year ago. Sununu said he expanded unemployment eligibility before other states and the federal government.

The skyrocketing unemployment should mean April’s unemployment rate, due out next month, will eclipse the state’s record of 8.1% reached in 1992. Consistent records go back to 1976.

“At this pace, we are probably looking at a current unemployment rate of over 10%,” said Laconia economist Russ Thibeault.

Lavers wouldn’t guess what the April unemployment rate might look like, after March’s rate remained steady at 2.6%.

“Certainly, when you look at the raw numbers and you do the quick math, you see over a very short period of time, the unemployment rate here in New Hampshire spiked beyond anything the state had seen previously,” Lavers said.

So far this week, new claims were running behind last week’s pace, but Lavers said it was too early to call it a trend.

New Hampshire saw 23,936 residents file new jobless claims for the week ending April 11, down about 15,000 from the previous week.

By comparison, New Hampshire generally handled between 300 and 500 new claims a week a year ago.

The state’s previous weekly record for new claims stood at 4,872 in December 2001, during a recession. The worst week during the Great Recession saw 4,058 new initial claims in January 2011. State records date back to 1967.

Lavers said the state is working to resolve issues for thousands of residents who have had initial or continued payments held up.

“They’re aggressively being cleared in order to move them into payment status as soon as Friday,” he said.

Reasons include issues over eligibility, self-employment and earnings.

Some New Hampshire employers could be paying a higher unemployment tax in the third quarter depending on the declining balance of the unemployment trust fund. Many businesses pay the bulk of their tax debt in the first part of the year, Lavers said, and some businesses that recently made sharp job cuts could pay a smaller overall unemployment tax bill despite the tax hike.

Unrelated to the pandemic, the unemployment tax for April through June went up 0.5% on the first $14,000 in annual wages paid to each employee, he said.

Job openings nationwide dropped 20.5% from March 9 to April 6 on the website of Glassdoor, a job recruiting site.

“Even in its first four weeks, the crisis has erased job openings at a rate that took the Great Recession nine months to match,” Glassdoor said this week.

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.  

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