BUSINESS REPORT

Economic challenges may remain long after the pandemic ends

BY Rhonda Schaffler, Correspondent |

COVID-19 delivered a one-two punch to Jersey. First the health crisis, followed quickly by an economic crisis. What’s happened to the economy is unprecedented, according to Rutgers University’s James Hughes.

“No other state has been hit economically as hard as we have. Essentially we’ve lost, New York and New Jersey both have lost about 20% of their jobs in just simply two months,” said Hughes, dean emeritus of the Bloustein School.

According to a new Rutgers report, those two months of job losses wiped out all of the employment gains of the last decade.

Since March, nearly 1.2 million residents filed claims for unemployment and overwhelmed the system. The pace of new layoffs is slowing now. But Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a community activist in Newark, says COVID-19 has been catastrophic for the state’s poor and working class.

“We want the state to intervene so that we can prevent evictions in the state of New Jersey, so that we can prevent an eviction crisis, a homelessness crisis,” Lopez-Nuñez, deputy  said.

Business owners are struggling as well and calls to reopen are getting louder.

But even when businesses fully reopen, that doesn’t mean the state’s economy will bounce back quickly. So leaders around the state, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s Michele Siekerka and Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan, are trying to figure out what the new normal means for New Jersey’s economy.

“The framework begins around the premise of ensuring that our recovery and reinvention is a sustainable one. It is not going to mean anything if we just come back only to fail shortly thereafter,” Siekerka said.

“Some sectors are going to be really hurt for awhile,” Sullivan said. “But there’s also opportunities around things like cybersecurity, education technology, life sciences, manufacturing, online gaming. There’s huge technology and entrepreneurial opportunities that we think will present themselves. We want New Jersey to be well positioned to capture them.”

During an NJSpotlight and NJTV virtual roundtable on the economy, New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Brandon McKoy said the state will be in a better position if it builds a more inclusive economy, one that addresses long-standing issues of racial inequality.

“Unless we address that directly, once we fix that and we do so without making excuses, we will be no better off than we were coming into this,” McKoy said.

Coming out of this isn’t going to be easy for New Jersey’s economy.

The Congressional Budget Office this week projected that the pandemic could have lingering effects on the entire United States economy for the next decade.