From the Record:
New Jersey’s job market swung from optimism to despair and back in 2015, ending the year on a high note, with the largest annual employment increase in 15 years.
Yet the encouraging performance will have to show continued strength if it is going to dispel the notion that the state’s economy lags the national expansion.
New Jersey added 37,800 jobs in the first five months of the year, only to lose 60 percent of them in June and July. Since then, state employment has grown by about 12,000 jobs a month, bringing the figure to 55,000 through November, the most since the 78,400 jobs created in 2000.
The state’s employment increase, by 1.38 percent, is smaller than the national employment increase of 1.64 percent so far this year. New Jersey’s jobless rate of 5.3 percent remains above the national level of 5 percent. And the state has recovered only about 78 percent of the jobs lost in the recession; the U.S. regained them more than a year ago.
Construction provided the state’s largest proportional employment increase, adding 9,800 jobs for a 7 percent increase in 2015 that reflected the strength in the housing market. The next biggest gains were in education and health services — a reliable growth sector that saw employment rise 2.4 percent — and leisure and hospitality, which expanded by 2.2 percent, shrugging off the weakness of 2014 from the casino meltdown in Atlantic City.
The most striking improvement was in the manufacturing sector, long a declining area, which increased by 1.57 percent, or 3,800 jobs, this year, prompting economists to wonder whether the drop had bottomed out.
That did little to diminish concern at the weakness in the professional and business services group, home to many of the state’s high-paying occupations. The sector shed 900 jobs in 2015.
North Jersey’s housing market continued to recover in 2015 from a deep downturn, with multifamily construction and the number of home sales up significantly.
But the pain is not over. Price increases were muted, and the state led the nation in foreclosures.
Home construction in the state has rebounded strongly from the depths of the housing crash, when only about 13,000 housing units were started each year from 2009 to 2011 — the lowest numbers since World War II. In 2015, the state’s builders are on track to start more than 30,000 units — the highest number since 2006, and close to the longtime averages in the 37,000 range.
The growth this year was entirely in multifamily construction, especially along the Hudson River waterfront in Hudson and Bergen counties. Single-family building permits were actually down by 8.2 percent through November, reflecting the high price of land and the fact many households are renting, either by choice or because they can’t qualify for a mortgage.
Still, the number of single-family home sales through November was up 11 percent in Bergen and 14 percent in Passaic County over the same period last year, according to the New Jersey Realtors. Despite the increased demand for homes, prices didn’t budge much, up 2.2 percent in Bergen and 3.5 percent in Passaic.
During the year, New Jersey led the nation in foreclosure activity. Lenders continued to clear up a backlog of distressed properties that built up after the mortgage industry was forced to slow down foreclosures after being accused of abusing the rights of homeowners in trouble.