coronavirus jobless

Unemployment has hit record numbers over the past two months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an estimated spike of 17.1% in unemployment for New Hampshire through the week ending May 2, with Manchester hit even harder.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire last week notched its fifth-straight weekly decline in initial jobless claims.

More than 182,000 New Hampshire workers have applied for new unemployment benefits in the past eight weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic — about equal to the combined populations of Nashua, Concord, Derry and Exeter.

“The cumulative impact of new claims over the last eight weeks is frightening,” Laconia economist Russ Thibeault said Thursday. “The New Hampshire economy is in a deep hole, and recovery has yet to begin.”

Statewide, 117,438 people had “active claims” for the week of May 9, up about 3,000 from the previous week, according to Employment Security. Some who filed initial claims might have been denied or could have returned to a job part-time and now make too much money to qualify for benefits.

State Employment Security officials tried to illustrate how much havoc the pandemic has wreaked on the state’s economy. The traditional monthly unemployment rate calculates the percentage of New Hampshire residents on unemployment regardless of what state their job is located.

The department took the number of New Hampshire residents who worked in New Hampshire and filed for initial unemployment benefits between March 15 and May 2 and calculated that as a percentage of the state’s total labor force.

The resulting number, what the state calls the “COVID-19 affected unemployment rate,” was 17.1% statewide.

That figure doesn’t include residents who filed for unemployment in another state or residents who were unemployed before the pandemic and still are.

In March, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 2.6%.

Compared to the rest of the state, Manchester’s COVID-19 unemployment rate was 22.3% through the week ending March 2.

“You look at the sectors that have been hit the hardest: retail and restaurant and hospitality, but you also have the hospital sector that’s been hit hard as well,” said Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for Employment Security.

Both Elliot Hospital and Catholic Medical Center in Manchester have announced job cutbacks related to plunging revenues from a suspension of elective surgeries during the pandemic.

Nashua’s rate stood at 15.8%, but many of its residents work in Massachusetts and wouldn’t be counted in that rate.

About 22,000 Granite State residents who worked in the food-services industry filed new unemployment claims between March 15 and May 2. Nearly 20,000 residents in retail jobs in this state and more than 15,000 in health care also filed fresh claims during that span, according to Employment Security.

Predicting when things will return to normal is difficult, according to Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

“Until we have a sense of consumer confidence and spending, I think it is too early to forecast how soon and at what pace jobs will be recovered, particularly in the hospitality and retail sector,” he said.

“As businesses are able to communicate the new health and safety protocols they are implementing, consumers will begin to feel more confident about returning to dining, shopping and other activities,” Skelton said in an email. “The climb back to pre-COVID-19 levels of activity will be slow and incremental, however, and businesses will be smart and cautious about trying to scale up too quickly until they see consumer demand returning.”

New Hampshire had 9,491 first-time filers for the week ending May 9, according to the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday, down from the revised 12,475 for the previous week.

The record week ending April 4 saw 39,202 fresh jobless claims.

The coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered businesses and kept millions home, has resulted in more than 36 million Americans filing new unemployment claims over the past eight weeks, nearly 3 million just last week alone.

People can qualify for unemployment due to layoff, furlough, reduction in hours or to care for children or family members or to self-quarantine.

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, May 30, 2020
Thursday, May 28, 2020
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Thursday, May 21, 2020