NH unemployment claims jump a whopping 3,308 percent

NH Employment Security office on Hanover Street in Manchester. File Photo

Story generated by NH Business Review as part of the

New Hampshire had the nation’s steepest increase in the number of unemployment claims last week, perhaps – but not necessarily – indicating an even sharper downturn in the state’s economy than the rest of the country.

There were 21,878 initial claims filed in the week ending March 21, a mindboggling 3,308 percent increase over the previous week, when only 634 filed – and three times the huge percentage increase nationwide. More people filed in one week than the 19,930 already collecting unemployed benefits, a surge that was more than five times the number during the worst week of the Great Recession.

Gov. Chris Sununu did not dispute or soft-peddle the numbers. Indeed, in a Thursday press conference he said that he thought they would be really higher, that the federal statistics might have missed some filers. 

Sununu said that the stay-at-home order he issued on Thursday – which also requires nonessential businesses to close until at least May 4, along with the worsening pandemic – will likely lead to more even more jobs lost. He called that “a very scary thought.”

He later added that numbers will likely “double and triple and more.”

Sununu’s business shutdown, which went into effect Friday at midnight, is limited to “nonessential” retail stores and hair salons, cosmetic stores, tattoo parlors, theaters, bowling allies and arcades, concerts and sporting events and state beaches. It does not go as far many such orders issued in other states, but fits in with Massachusetts, he said, adding that many of these business were closed anyway.

But he said people are anxious because a surge in Covid-19 cases is still ahead.

Nationally, there were 3.3 million initial unemployment claims compared to 251,000 the week before – an increase of just over 1,000%. 

New Hampshire’s steeper increase might also have been caused by the state’s loosening of eligibility requirements to include business owners and those who don’t go to work to take care of sick family members or to self-isolate because of the possibility that they themselves have the virus. 

Sununu loosened the requirements in a March 17 emergency order, and the federal government has taken some similar measures, including a version of family leave that employers would provide.

Under the federal program, the government would reimburse businesses via cuts in payroll taxes. That goes into effect April 2. A federal relief bill expected to pass Friday would cover self-employed individuals.

There’s another possible reason for the big hike in jobless claims – New Hampshire’s unemployment rate had further to fall then most other states. The Granite State’s unemployment rate was 2.6 percent in January, among the lowest in the nation.

Maine was right behind New Hampshire, both in the number of initial claims, 21,197, and percentage increase – 3,243 percent.  Massachusetts had 147,995 initial claims, a 1,871 percent increase. Vermont, with some 3,667 claims, had a 456 percent increase.

The state claims figures were released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday after the department told states to suppress claims data at least until the federal data was released.

But the state Department of Employment Security did say that 34,000 people had registered in its system last week. Apparently about 10,000 of them either did not file a claim or were not captured by the federal figures. 

These stories are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.