From the Star Ledger:
During the first two months of 2012 alone, New Jersey created more than half the number of jobs it did during all of last year, according to new data released yesterday from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In January and February, employers in the state added a net total of 17,500 non-farm jobs. Last year’s tally came to 33,400 new jobs in the private sector.
The two-month total accounts for the state revising down January’s reported jobs gains to 8,800, as preliminary estimates of 13,300 proved too high. Preliminary estimates peg February’s net job growth at 8,700, all due to private sector gains. That marks the sixth straight month of job growth, to a seasonally adjusted amount of just over 3.89 million jobs, the department said.
“New Jersey employment is now moving up at a well-sustained rate. With over 74,000 new private sector jobs added since 2010…the number of private sector jobs in the state has reached a three-year high,” Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state’s Department of Treasury, said in a statement.
Economists who study the Garden State said the gains are a positive sign that New Jersey, along with the rest of the country, will keep up a steady crawl out of the great recessession.
“The state economy will continue this tortoise-like improvement,” said Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors, giving his outlook for 2012.
But despite the last month’s boost in payrolls, New Jersey’s jobless rate remained unchanged at 9 percent. That eclipses the national rate for February of 8.3 percent.
While layoffs in the pharmaceuticals sector and casino and gaming industry have added to New Jersey’s joblessness rate, a number of other factors also will keep the unemployment rate higher than the national average. For one, cutbacks in the public sector continue to partially offset employment gains in the private workforce, Naroff said. For example, government payrolls last month dropped by 1,000 while private sector employers added 9,700 workers, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
Secondly, the unemployment rate reflects New Jersey residents’ ability to find jobs not just in state, but also elsewhere such as neighboring Pennsylvania and New York.
Thirdly, the unemployment rate is a reflection of the number of people actively looking for work, economists note. Paradoxically, the rate can go down if large numbers of people simply give up on finding a job.
Chances are, the rate will continue to lag behind the national average this year. Naroff said a very good outcome would be if New Jersey’s unemployment rate sank to 8.5 percent by year-end.
In terms of numbers of private sector jobs the state may add this year, gains could exceed 50,000, said James Hughes, dean of Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
“However, the other big picture we still have is a deep employment-deficit hole to climb out of,” he said. Between December 2007, when the recession officially began, and February 2010, when New Jersey and the U.S. hit the bottom in terms of job losses, the state lost 248,200 private sector jobs. Since then, it has added back 74,500.
“We still have to add 173,700 private-sector jobs to get back to where we were before the recession started,” Hughes said.