From the Record:
The better-than-expected U.S. job numbers released Friday echoed positive trends in New Jersey and boosted confidence that the economy in the state, and the nation, is on track, economists said.
U.S. employers added 280,000 jobs in May, according to Labor Department figures, the highest in five months, after a first-quarter slump many economists blamed on the harsh winter. Hourly wages, which have barely budged even as jobs grew, rose 0.3 percent from the previous month, the biggest increase since August 2014. Unemployment edged up to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent in April, as more people entered the workforce.
New Jersey, which has trailed the U.S. in the speed of job creation, posted its 10th straight month of job growth in April and is on pace to gain an estimated 60,000 jobs this year.
The state still is not adding jobs at the same pace as the nation as a whole, but the gap has narrowed in the past six months, according to Rutgers University economist Joseph Seneca, who called the trend “encouraging.”
By a number of measures, New Jersey’s economy is improving, said Patrick O’Keefe, an economist with CohnReznick, a New York accounting firm with offices in Roseland. For example, unemployment claims in New Jersey have dropped to lows last seen about 15 years ago; home building is 12 percent above last year’s level; and non-residential construction is up. Tax revenue in the state also has risen, O’Keefe said.
However, “the national economy has a degree of momentum that we have yet to see at the state level,” he said. “The state just hasn’t gained the traction that we see nationally.”
New Jersey is scheduled to report its May jobs figures on June 18. In April, the state added 4,300 jobs, and the state’s jobless rate remained at 6.5 percent.
Friday’s strong national employment numbers are likely to be good news for New Jersey, especially for the state’s $42.1 billion tourism industry, said Michael Wolf, a regional economist who follows New Jersey for Wells Fargo.
“Presumably with a stronger labor market and higher incomes, more people will say, ‘Why don’t we take a long weekend or a full week and head to the Shore?’Ÿ” Wolf said.
Over the longer term, Wolf expects “modest to moderate” economic growth for the state.
“I don’t expect New Jersey to be a leader of growth in the U.S., but I don’t think it’s slated to devolve into perpetual recession,” he said.
ohn Fugazzie, founder of the North Jersey-based Neighbors Helping Neighbors support group for job seekers, and program coordinator of the state’s Ready to Work job training and placement grant, cautioned that the gains still haven’t eased the unemployment and underemployment problems of many New Jerseyans and Americans.
“The salary levels of the jobs being added are much lower than the jobs that are being lost,” he said.