Democrats use New Jersey job-loss data to pounce on Christie

Posted: August 18, 2012

New Jersey lost 12,000 jobs in July and the state's unemployment rate reached its highest point since the spring of 1977, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

Democrats used the data like a hammer to slam Gov. Christie's claim of a "New Jersey comeback," which the governor has touted all summer and may mention in his keynote address at the Republican convention.

The state's latest unemployment figure - 9.8 percent - is far higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. There were 7,100 job losses in the private sector and 4,900 in the public sector, with professional and business services seeing the largest drops.

The country as a whole added 163,000 jobs in July.

As the keynote speaker at the Republicans' convention at the end of the month, Christie is expected to claim success in fixing New Jersey's economy while arguing that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to put Americans back to work.

Christie has been using the term New Jersey comeback for months, and Romney recently began calling himself and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), "America's comeback team."

Hours after the unemployment numbers were released the New Jersey GOP sent an e-mail inviting Republicans to the convention in Tampa. It read, in part: "The New Jersey Comeback is well under way but now it's time for the American Comeback to begin."

Democrats released statements saying the new unemployment figures indicate no such comeback.

Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) called it the "Jersey setback," while Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said "there is no way to interpret this other than bad."

"What I want to see is this administration admit it is failing in terms of getting people back to work," Sweeney said.

Democrats also tried to frame Christie as too concerned with his national image and his prime-time speech at the convention.

"Stop caring more about your personal reputation and political successes than you do about the people of New Jersey," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), the chairman of New Jersey's Democrats.

Christie is on vacation at the Shore this week, but administration officials said the unemployment rate might be revised next month and again in March 2013 once more detailed data came in. And they said the numbers could not be viewed in a vacuum.

"We've had a volatile recession and the numbers in terms of employment rate have varied drastically from month to month," said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor.

Over the course of Christie's term the state generally has seen job growth, with positive job numbers reported nine of the last 11 months. Since February 2010 - the first full month of Christie's term, and the low point of private-sector job losses - 79,000 private-sector jobs have been added.

Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state Department of Treasury, attributed the recent job losses to a "sluggish" national economy and to a natural "fallback" after job gains in the state in May and June.

Kevin Roberts, a Christie spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to reporters that "New Jerseyans are more confident in entering the job market than the nation as a whole."

Roberts also noted that unemployment rates had recently ticked up elsewhere in the region, including New York state and Connecticut, while the rate in New York City remained stuck at 10 percent.

"The July numbers are dreary and indicate a weakening in what was up until now an improving New Jersey labor market," said Rutgers University economist Joseph J. Seneca.

"The loss of 7,100 private-sector jobs in the state was in distinct contrast to a very strong July job gain for the nation," he said, calling the divergent trends worrisome for New Jersey even after accounting for month to month volatility in the data.

Other economic data favor the Christie administration's claims of a comeback. Sales of existing homes and personal income rose in the first quarter of the year, and in the first half of the year housing permits were up 25.4 percent over the same period in 2011.

The state released other economic indicators Thursday that showed revenues from income, sales, and business taxes and other sources for July were 2.5 percent higher than in July 2011.

But that was far below the 7.3 percent annual revenue increase that the governor is banking on to support a proposed income tax cut. Christie has traveled the Shore this summer saying that now that he has ushered in the "Jersey comeback," a tax cut is needed.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said that July revenue is typically the lightest of the year and that it would be inappropriate to draw larger conclusions about annual revenue growth from that month's numbers.

July revenue was 5.5 percent below what the administration had budgeted for the month, according to the Department of Treasury. The drop was driven in part by flagging casino revenue in July, which came in 30.2 percent lower than expected.

Earlier, Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) released a letter from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services that showed that revenue collections were hundreds of millions of dollars below targets for the fiscal year that ended in June.

They said that meant this year's revenue would have to come in even higher than the 7.3 percent increase Christie says he expects in order to make up the shortfall and pay for his proposed tax cut.

"Christie is flying around the country raising money for Romney when he should be worried about the money his Treasury Department is taking in," Buono said.


Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/ChristieChronicles

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