Nearly 156,000 New Jersey residents filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 16-fold increase from the week before and more than three times greater than any week in the 34 years of record-keeping.

The report specifically notes layoffs in New Jersey in the accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, and educational service industries.

Reports issued by the federal and state labor departments show 155,815 people filed initial unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, compared with 9,467 a week earlier.

It amounts to nearly one of every 26 workers in the state with wages covered by unemployment.

New Jersey's previous record spike of first-time claims came after Superstorm Sandy -- up 46,129 in the week ending Nov. 10, 2012, followed by another 45,631 a week later. The next-highest jumps of around 25,000 in a week were recorded during recessions in 1991 and 2010.

Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro Angelo-Angelo said that although the unemployment program's phone lines and website have been often overwhelmed by demand in the past few weeks, the increase in the number who have successfully filed new claims "is evidence the system is working as intended."

“We understand the anxiety, uncertainty and fear out there among residents who have been laid off suddenly or seen their hours reduced,” Asaro-Angelo said. “Despite some challenges our systems are experiencing due to volume, Labor Department staff are working continuously to meet the needs of all of our customers, and get benefits to everyone who deserves them as soon as possible.

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Nationally, nearly 3.3 million initial unemployment claims were submitted -- a 3 million increase. The previous all-time high was 695,000.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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