Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Big drop in N.J. jobless rate, but gloom persists

TRENTON New Jersey's unemployment rate in November fell to 7.8 percent after a 0.6 percentage-point monthly decline - the largest drop on record for the state. But some economists say there are troubling signs in the underlying data that people are leaving the job market.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released preliminary data Thursday from its two major state-level employment surveys.

Its larger survey, of employers, which is considered to be the more reliable, shows that the state added nearly 17,000 jobs in November, with most industries hiring.

Economists for the state government and others agreed that is promising.

"The summer doldrums in jobs seems to have vanished as the temperature has dropped and the state's expansion has picked up its pace," Charles Steindel, the chief economist for the state Treasury Department, said in a statement.

Joe Seneca, a Rutgers University economist, called the jobs gains "an early Christmas present."

But the job growth is not why the unemployment rate declined. The jobless rate is calculated using mostly data from a survey of households.

That survey shows that only 4.2 million New Jersey residents have jobs - an increase of just 1,000 over October. At the same time, 30,600 residents left the labor force.

Patrick O'Keefe, an economist for CohnReznick, said the labor-force participation rate was the lowest since 1983.

"The job growth was a solid number," O'Keefe said. "The labor-force statistics were more than disappointing."

New Jersey's labor-force numbers have been confounding. In the second half of 2012, there were rapid increases in the number of people looking for work in the state, even as the national number declined. It's not clear why that happened, just as it's not clear why more people stopped looking for jobs this year.

Economists say that divergence explains why New Jersey's unemployment rate was about 1 percentage point higher than the national rate for much of 2013.

The unemployment-rate gap has now gotten smaller. The national figure for October was 7.3 percent.

Geoff Mulvihill Associated Press
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