Unemployment in New Jersey is a disaster. It’s not the fault of the people who work at the Department of Labor — there simply aren’t enough of them.
In September, the unemployment rate in New Jersey was 6.7%. This was a significant drop from the all time high of 16.8% in June, yet far above average considering the unemployment rate never rose above 3.7% in all of 2019.
In real terms, about 300,000 people are currently unemployed in NJ. Data Commons ranks New Jersey as having the 9th highest unemployment rate in the country, though their data lags behind the Department of Labor. That being said, the statistics provided by the Labor Department are skewed for a number of reasons.
Even before new restrictions were announced, new unemployment claims were rising in New Jersey. New unemployment claims are a different statistic than total unemployment claims. Recent drops in total unemployment are due to workers leaving the labor force altogether, and not the result of gains in employment. Some think we are overcounting unemployed workers, but the truth is that the way we track unemployment is unreliable. For this reason, looking at the three-month unemployment average is helpful, which is 10.8% in New Jersey. The point is, no matter what statistics you’re looking at, unemployment is incredibly high. Many of these jobs aren’t coming back any time soon, if at all.
Under normal circumstances, you are allotted 26 weeks of unemployment benefits at most. Unemployed workers typically receive around 40% of prior earnings.
Every week, more Americans become long-term unemployed, which is defined as those out of work for more than 27 weeks. The number of long-term unemployed in the United States is creeping toward 4 million. Workers in states like New Jersey are eligible for benefit extensions due to the unemployment rate being so high.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides 13 weeks of federal benefits for those who exhaust 26 weeks of state benefits. PEUC is, “seeing a surge in new applications.” When the federal extension is exhausted, unemployed workers may be entitled to state extended benefits (EB), which offer an additional 20 weeks of assistance.
However, not everyone is eligible for the 20 week extension. Those not eligible for regular unemployment benefits may qualify for a seven-week extension under PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).
Workers on the federal extension, and those who leave the labor market, are not necessarily reflected in state unemployment statistics. Both the PEUC and PUA extensions are set to expire at the end of the year.
Some unemployed workers are experiencing the benefit year glitch, which occurs when your unemployment claim hits the one year mark. If you stopped working, started working, then stopped again, and opened the same unemployment claim, you will have to file a new claim after the year is up. In other words, those who worked a portion of the year, and qualify, will receive benefits under a new claim. Those who have been unemployed for 52 straight weeks, “as well as those who worked but do not meet the earnings requirements to qualify for benefits under a new claim, will have that claim invalidated and be returned to extended benefit status on the old claim.”
Are you following all this? If benefit extensions seem complicated that’s because they are. The confusion does not stop, and the issues with the system are myriad. The Labor Department has said eligible workers will be enrolled in extended benefits automatically, though this is not always the case.
Update: As of early February, 75k New Jerseyans are waiting for unemployment extensions to kick in.
Not to mention, the agency still has tens of thousands of claims in backlog, and did a poor job of sending out the Lost Wage Assistance benefits. Supposedly, improvements are on their way, but the unemployment system in New Jersey will be outdated and overwhelmed for the remainder of this crisis.
For any and all problems concerning benefit extensions, as well as the benefit year glitch, the Labor Department says you will probably need to talk to an agent. Unfortunately, it is not easy getting in touch with an agent. Nightmare scenarios of calling for weeks before reaching an agent abound. The average wait time for unemployment benefits appeals is between 2–3 months.
Moreover, not all unemployment agents are equal in terms of what problems they can solve. There are agents whose function is to escalate your claim to a “specialist.” The specialist will then look at your claim, and eventually fix the issue. This can take more than a month. In order to solve unemployment issues in real time, you will need to talk to a specialist directly. How do you reach a specialist?
A massive Google Doc containing the emails of more than 2,000 Labor Department employees is floating around, yet even if you email everyone on that list you may not receive a response.
After digging around on Facebook groups pertaining to unemployment in New Jersey, I found these instructions to get hold of a specialist. They resemble instructions for a video game cheat code. Incredibly, by following these steps I was able to talk to two specialists in a week, and deal with any issues I had in real time.
I am giving you a condensed version of the instructions I’ve seen shared in a screenshot. I’ve seen multiple versions, but the one shared by Elisha is probably the most popular. In order to get in touch with a New Jersey Department of Labor unemployment specialist follow these steps:
- Call 856–507–2340 between the hours of 8:00–8:30AM. This does not work after 8:30AM (this has been disputed — but I recommend calling early).
- Depending on which message you hear when you call: press 1 for English, or press 1 to file a new claim
- If you hear, “press 1 for English,” when you first call then you will immediately press 3 after pressing 1. If you hear, “press 1 to file or reopen a claim,” then press 1, and wait for the recording of a man’s voice.
- When you hear the recording of the man’s voice press 1 for English — he will then ask for your zip code. After entering your zip code, hit the pound key three times immediately after the zip code (i.e. 07027 ###).
- The man’s voice will then say “an agent will be right with you.”
- If you hear, “all agents are busy, call back tomorrow due to high call volume,” or, “you need to speak to an agent to file your claim, and there are no agents available,” then hang up and start all over.
I sometimes received the message “all agents are busy, please call back the next business day,” but I eventually got through to a specialist before 8:30AM — two days in a row. The speed at which you press 3 after pressing 1, as well as how quickly you hit the pound key three times after putting in your zip code seems to matter.
I have the same questions you have. Did Elisha discover this? Does the Labor Department know about it? Why does it work? I have no answers. All I know is that it worked for me, and I would like to share it with anyone who seriously needs their unemployment issues fixed. If you’re looking to speak with an unemployment specialist in New Jersey, this is how. Good luck.