Hiring sign

A sign outside Cleary Cleaners on Mast Road in Manchester shows businesses are starting to need more employees.

Put everybody who lives in Nashua, Bedford and Berlin together, and that’s how many people were counted as unemployed in New Hampshire last month.

The number of unemployed — 122,570 — was the highest since the state started keeping records in 1976.

That produced a record unemployment rate of 17.2% in April — more than double March.

More than 101,000 residents were added to the rolls in April alone after government restrictions to help curb the coronavirus pandemic were enacted in mid-March, forcing businesses to shut or sharply cut back.

“It’s a devastating statement on where the New Hampshire economy is right now,” Laconia economist Russ Thibeault said after the figures were released Tuesday.

The record unemployment rate should peak in April or possibly May before “we’re going to see some improvement over the next several months as parts of the economy open up,” said Thibeault, who in March predicted 15% to 20% unemployment.

Employers already are seeing business activity pick up.

Cleary Cleaners, which has 14 locations in New Hampshire, is completing the process of filling five job openings.

“These positions were people who voluntarily due to COVID laid themselves off, for a lack of a better word,” said administration manager Julie Cleary. “Now, we’re picking back up and trying to fill existing positions that we couldn’t get people to come back for.”

Despite record unemployment, she said hiring was “not easy at all.”

In March, Steve Hammes furloughed about half of his 32 workers at One Source Security in Merrimack. “People weren’t letting us in” to install security systems and camera systems, he recalled.

Hammes received a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program and was able to recall his entire staff within about three weeks. Only one worker found a job elsewhere in the meantime.

He said he couldn’t have brought back as many people as quickly without the PPP loan, which can be converted into a grant if an employer meets a certain hiring threshold.

“We’re pretty busy as of now,” he said. “By summertime, we’d probably be back to where we were if everything goes well.”

April’s 17.2% non-seasonally adjusted rate beat the state’s previous record unemployment rate of 8.1% set in January 1992 and January 1976.

“Although not-seasonally-adjusted labor force statistics typically should not be used for comparison purposes, they present a more accurate measure of New Hampshire’s employment situation in April due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Employment Security said in its monthly news release.

The unadjusted unemployment rate of 17.2% in April compared to 2.8% in March and 2.5% in April 2019.

Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique used to remove the influence of predictable seasonal employment patterns, such as summer hiring.

Using seasonally adjusted figures, April’s unemployment rate stood at 16.3% compared to March’s rate, which decreased to 2.4% after revision.

April saw 152,150 fewer residents employed than in March. The 590,980 employed residents in April marked the lowest since May 1994.

The total labor force decreased by 50,660 to 713,550.

Workers in the leisure and hospitality sector were hit hardest, with 40,600 fewer people working in that field in April than in March. Of those, 29,100 came from dining and drinking establishments, according to fresh numbers released by Employment Security.

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.

Saturday, August 01, 2020
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Sunday, July 26, 2020