N.J. jobless rate dips to 9 percent

Gov. Christie speaks in Long Branch about the state's unemployment rate and homeowner rebates. Unemployment is still above the U.S. average.
Gov. Christie speaks in Long Branch about the state's unemployment rate and homeowner rebates. Unemployment is still above the U.S. average. (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: April 20, 2013

New Jersey's payrolls expanded by 8,100 jobs in March and the unemployment rate dropped to 9 percent from 9.3 percent in February, the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.

While the state's rate is well above the nation's March unemployment rate of 7.6, it is the lowest it has been since early 2012.

In an election year, whether that's good or not good enough depends a whole lot on politics.

In the not-good-enough camp is New Jersey State Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat who is running for governor against Gov. Christie, a Republican.

"Under Gov. Christie's watch, New Jersey still has 415,000 people unemployed," she said in a statement. "New Jerseyans still looking for work need to see real action to promote job growth in the Garden State, not more platitudes and tax cuts for the rich."

Christie, talking to reporters after a meeting with business owners in Long Branch, described Thursday's jobs report as progress.

"New Jersey is making progress and everyone but Sen. Buono feels it," Christie said, according to NorthJersey.com.

Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state Department of Treasury, was also cheerleading the expansion of jobs in the state.

"Once again, jobs and employment are moving in the right directions, reflecting the growing strength in the state's economy," he said in a statement.

Thursday's report came the same day as the weekly U.S. Labor Department report on unemployment claims.

Initial claims for benefits rose a modest 4,000 to 352,000, while the four-week average, considered a less volatile measure, rose 2,750, to 361,250.

Basing its report on other U.S. data, New Jersey noted that the private sector created 10,400 jobs in March, but those gains were offset by the loss of 2,300 government jobs, nearly evenly divided on the federal, state, and local levels.

Whether the across-the-board federal budget cuts forced by the so-called sequestration had an impact was not known.

"I do not think that the effect of sequestration can be detected yet, and especially not at the state level," said public policy professor Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

In the private sector, jobs were added in the majority of categories, with leisure and hospitality jobs growing the most, up 5,500.

Other job-gaining categories included manufacturing, construction, and education and health services.

Besides the decline in government payrolls, there were job losses in business and professional services as well as trade, transportation, and utilities, a sector that includes retailing.

The unemployment rate drop is both a function of mathematics and an improving job situation.

Expressed as a percentage, the unemployment rate is a fraction, with the numerator being the number of unemployed and the denominator being the labor force, which is the number of people who have jobs or have looked for a job in the last month.

So, while the number of unemployed declined by about 16,000 to 415,000 from 431,000 in February, causing the numerator to shrink, the number of people in the labor force declined by even more, 21,300, shrinking the denominator.

Economists usually explain a decline in the labor force by saying that some unemployed, discouraged by lack of job prospects, drop out and stop looking for work, perhaps returning to school or retiring early.

The shrinking numerator and denominator help to explain March's drop in New Jersey's unemployment rate, along with the increase in the state's payrolls, which have expanded by 53,600 jobs since March 2012.

The state's unemployment rate has not dropped below 9 percent since May 2009.

February's preliminary numbers were revised downward, the state Labor Department reported. Initially, the state had reported a February payroll gain of 12,900. It was lowered to 9,400.

Contact Jane Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @JaneVonBergen. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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