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N.J. unemployment drops, but total employment also falls

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While New Jersey’s unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points — from 9.4 percent to 9.2 percent — in September, the total number of jobs in the state fell by 11,100, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Private-sector employment fell by 5,800 jobs, while public-sector jobs fell by 5,300.

Industries that saw drops included manufacturing, which fell by 4,100 jobs; leisure and hospitality, 3,700; trade, transportation and utilities, 3,400; other services, 2,600; and information, 1,700. Durable-goods manufacturing fell by 2,100, while makers of nondurable goods lost 2,000 positions.

Job gains occurred in professional and business services, with 3,900 new jobs; education and health services, 2,700; financial activities, 2,100; and construction, 1,000. Nearly all of the gains in professional and business services occurred in professional, scientific and technical services, which gained 3,700 jobs.

Dean James W. Hughes, of Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said the employment numbers have been erratic this year, but moving in a positive direction.

“It’s really been choppy,” Hughes said. “We know things are improving, because we were hemorrhaging in ’09, we stabilized in 2010 and we gained in 2011.”

The state numbers for August were revised upwards, from a loss of 7,100 jobs to a loss of 2,500. This means that total private-sector employment gains for the year stand at 32,600.

Hughes said the state’s economy has been tracking the national economy this year, with the national data also moving inconsistently upward.

“Unless there is a fourth-quarter collapse, 2011, in terms of jobs is going to be considerably better than 2010,” Hughes said, noting New Jersey gained 5,000 private-sector jobs in 2010 after losing 117,000 in 2009.

However, it will take both the state and nation time to return to the employment levels of December 2007, when the recent recession started.

“We’re really looking at 2014, 2015” to reach pre-recession levels, Hughes said. “Progress is being made, but we were in such a deep hole that it’s going to take that long to get out of it, assuming the European debt crisis is resolved.”

The state Treasury’s chief economist, Charles Steindel, said the effects of Hurricane Irene may have held down the September job count, but the numbers show the state hasn’t been immune to national job-creation softness.

“While this second consecutive monthly drop in the unemployment rate is good news, the weakness in payroll employment figures is disappointing,” Steindel said.

The unadjusted workweek for production workers increased 0.6 hours, to 41 hours, in September; average hourly earnings rose 37 cents, to $18.99; and weekly earnings increased by $26.34, to $778.59, according to the monthly report. Those figures also rose compared to a year earlier.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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