Even as New Jersey got the good news Monday that it added 18,400 more jobs in 2012 than previously reported -- for a total of 66,400 -- the same report said 2013 is off to a slow start.
Despite adding more jobs last year than in any year since 2000, the state added just 2,600 jobs in January, about one tenth of the number added in December, according to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Moreover, the state's unemployment rate -- which dipped to 9.5 percent -- is still well above the national figure of 7.7 percent.
Together, the figures suggest that the state's economy is beginning to fire up, but is far from taking off, economists said.
"It's a very tepid start to the year, given the strong 2012," said Joseph Seneca, a Rutgers University economist. He nevertheless called the 2012 figures "very encouraging."
"It shows that the economy performed significantly better than the initial estimates," he said.
New Jersey has now added about 102,000 jobs since the low point in September 2010. That's about 40 percent of the 260,000 jobs lost during the economic downturn.
In a separate report Monday, the U.S. Labor Department said unemployment rates increased in half the states in January, as employers nationwide added the fewest jobs in seven months.
New Jersey's revised figures show that state employment rose by about 1.7 percent in 2012, roughly the same rate as the nation. The unrevised figures had suggested that the state was adding proportionately fewer jobs than the U.S.
"We knew 2012 was much better than 2011," said James Hughes, an economist and dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. "Now we know that it's more than double what was achieved in 2011."
The January figure may be revised next week when the department releases February job figures. The state added 3,000 private sector jobs in January and lost 400 government jobs, the report showed.
The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 9.5 percent in January. Revised figures showed the rate peaked at 9.7 during the summer, rather than the previously announced 9.9 percent -- a figure that sparked headlines that the state rate was the highest since 1977. In fact, the 9.7 percent peak last July was the highest since 2010.
The report provides a boost for Governor Christie, who faces re-election in November and had initially promoted what he called the "Jersey comeback." He dropped the phrase last year, as the employment picture and other economic factors did not appear to support such a bullish economic assessment.
"The revised numbers provide further confirmation that New Jersey's labor market has been strengthening," said Charles Steindel, chief economist for the New Jersey Department of Treasury. "What we saw as firm job growth is now shown to have been even higher."
A release by Christie's office said the reason for the state's high unemployment rate is not because there are large numbers of jobless residents, but is in large part due to "New Jerseyans' optimistic outlook on the state being on the right track."
The unemployment rate is calculated in part based on the figure for the labor force participation rate -- the proportion of the working age population that is either working or looking for work., the release said. Christie officials said New Jersey's participation rate is higher than the national rate because many jobless workers believe they will get hired soon -- a factor that can boost the unemployment rate.
Seneca, and Patrick J. O'Keefe, director of economic research for CohnReznick, said that could be part of the reason the state rate is so high.
Barbara Buono, Christie's likely Democratic opponent, said the report "underscores the fact that New Jersey is in the midst of its worst unemployment crisis in the last three decades."
"While the United States has seen its unemployment rate steadily decline, New Jersey's remains nearly two percent higher than the national average and more than a point higher than Connecticut and New York," she said. New York State's unemployment rate is 7.9 percent, and Connecticut's is 8.1 percent.
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