News Column

New Jersey Added 3,300 jobs in April, State Says

May 17, 2013

New Jersey added 3,300 jobs in April, and the unemployment rate declined from 9 percent to 8.7 percent, the lowest level in four years, according to statistics released Thursday by the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The state added 4,100 private sector jobs, , but lost 800 government jobs.

New Jersey's unemployment rate still remains higher than the national rate -- which was 7.5 percent in April -- and economists used terms like modest and tepid to describe the state's job growth last month.

The job growth in April, noted Rutgers University economist Joseph Seneca, brings the four-month total of new payroll jobs in the state to 18,100, which puts New Jersey on pace to add about 54,000 payroll jobs this year. "That will be a bit below what we had in 2012, but it's steady," Seneca said.

Seneca said the payroll jobs report and the household employment survey are "both pointing to an improving labor market," although the improvement is modest. "This was a good month, but there is no acceleration in job gains," he said.

The April numbers, Seneca said, showed that two of three employment indicators are moving in the right direction -- the number of employed increased by 11.3 percent, and the number of unemployed persons decreased by 15.7 percent. A less welcome development, he said, was that the civilian labor force decreased by 4.4 percent, indicating that there are more discouraged workers who have stopped seeking jobs.

Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at accounting firm CohnReznick, said April's gain of 3,300 jobs is an improvement over April 2012, when the state lost jobs. "Overall though," O'Keefe, "New Jersey's labor market is continuing to take baby steps, with a limp."

The increase, O'Keefe said, is below the average monthly increase for the prior 12 months, or 4,400 jobs. The private sector gain, 4,100 jobs, "was actually a little bit better than the average for the prior 12 months," which was 3,700, he said.

The unemployment rate declined, O'Keefe said, in part because employment rose in April but also because the labor force contracted for the third consecutive month. "If the labor force had merely stayed the same size for the last three months, the unemployment rate would be 9.4 percent, exactly where it was a year ago," he said.

John Fugazzie of River Edge, founder of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a multi-state network of support groups for job seekers, said the failure of the statistics to count discouraged unemployed who have stopped looking is a key issue. "People are falling off the ranks and they're not in the numbers, so it's a false sense of improvement," he said.

Fugazzie said he has seen an uptick in members getting jobs in recent weeks, but said many of those jobs are temporary, and short-term positions. "People are not finding full time jobs," he said.

Seneca, however, said the state should be encouraged by the progress it had made in regaining the jobs lost during the recession. As of now, he said, the state has regained 52.8 percent of those jobs. "We've crossed the halfway mark and its been steady, if tepid, progress," he said.

Charles Steindel, chief economist for the New Jersey Department of Treasury, said the decline in the unemployment rate is the result of real job growth. "The marked decline in unemployment over the last year mainly reflects the ongoing gains in jobs we are experiencing," he said in a statement.

The biggest gains in April were in education and health services, which added 3,700 jobs, and leisure and hospitality, which added 2,100 jobs. The professional and business services group, which lost 4,700 jobs, had the biggest decline.

New York City also reported Thursday that its unemployment rate had dropped to the lowest level in four years, to 8.4 percent in April, down from 8.9 percent in March.

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(c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com

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