A surge of new jobless claims last week equal to the population of Nashua and Amherst would spike the state’s unemployment rate to an unprecedented 15% if calculated today, according to one economist.
Last week’s 36,000 claims, a record high for one week, pushed the state’s three-week total past 100,000.
“I think it’s going to be disproportionately young people and disproportionately low-wage people, given the industries getting hit hardest,” said Laconia economist Russ Thibeault, who pointed to retail, lodging and restaurants in this tourist-dependent state.
Compared to last week, fewer people statewide were filing new jobless claims this week, said Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner at Employment Security, in an interview Thursday.
“I don’t know if that’s a trend or something that was quirky for a few days and you could see that come back to the same level we saw in prior weeks,” he said.
Nationwide, the coronavirus pandemic — which triggered businesses to shutter and many people to stay at home in the state and around the world — has caused more than 16 million Americans in the past three reported weeks to file for unemployment, including more than 6 million people last week.
To illustrate the magnitude in New Hampshire, Employment Security was paying out about $700,000 a week in benefits before the pandemic crisis. Businesses started getting hit hard in mid-March, after Gov. Chris Sununu issued orders restricting people from shopping at stores and dining out in restaurants.
This week, Employment Security has issued more than 35,000 payments totaling almost $10 million, with another round of payments to go out Friday.
From March 17 through Thursday, the state issued nearly 73,000 benefit checks totaling more than $20 million, which includes payments to people who started collecting benefits before the crisis.
Those figures do not include the $600-a-week federal enhancement scheduled to be included in checks issued after April 15.
How quickly the unemployment picture will improve will depend partly on how fast people such as Joe Teixeira can get approved for federal funds to bring back idled workers. The program provides loans that later can be converted into grants.
Teixeira co-owns Moe Joe’s Country Diner, where business is down 70%, and Moe Joe’s Family Restaurant, which is reopening Friday to serve ice cream and takeout.
He furloughed all but four of his 37 employees and will recall three more workers this week to work at the restaurant.
“I applied for the loan, so if I get it, I can bring everybody back to work,” he said.
The unemployment numbers also don’t count people such as Eugene Baylus, an optometrist who decided to accept a cut in hours rather than take an offered furlough, which would have earned him unemployment.
“My employer (also an optometrist) and I felt it was important to provide care, when appropriate, and on an emergency basis, to our patients,” Baylus said in an email.
Then he found out he made too much to qualify for unemployment.
This week, he will work shorter days in his Concord office as well as cover emergency calls, but he won’t know whether he will receive an unemployment check until he tries to file again next week.
Baylus said his family has cut expenses, but it’s difficult feeding five people. “I have been surprised at the price increases at the local grocery stores as well,” said Baylus, who lives in Loudon.
The 100,000 claims filed by Granite Staters in the past three weeks match the number the state handled in the previous three years.
“It’s a big number, and it slammed us fast,” Thibeault said
The federal government Thursday reported 36,214 Granite Staters filed new jobless claims for the week ending April 4 — and nearly 97,000 over three weeks..
Lavers said the state received more than 100,000 new jobless claims during those three weeks, a slightly higher figure.
The state’s previous record unemployment rate of of 8.1% was recorded in January 1992. Consistent records go back to 1976, according to Thibeault.
To illustrate how quickly the jobs market has turned in New Hampshire, February’s unemployment figures showed 19,930 people unemployed, a 2.6% jobless rate.
The March rate, to be unveiled next week, won’t measure the immediate spike, because figures used in that calculation were collected before companies enacted the vast majority of layoffs and furloughs
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s weekly record for new claims occurred in December 2001, during a recession, when 4,872 were filed.
The worst week of the Great Recession saw 4,058 new claims in January 2011. State records date back to 1967.