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Strong government hiring counters jobs losses in N.J. private sector

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Three thousand hires at the local government level helped hold the state's unemployment rate at 9 percent in March, though the state lost 11,600 nonfarm private jobs, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

In addition, Labor's estimates for February were revised downward by more than 1,500 jobs.

According to James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, March was the worst month in terms of private-sector job losses since the July 2009 — the first month coming out of the recession.

“Occasionally, you’ll get a strange month, or it could represent something more ominous,” Hughes said. “If it’s positive next month, then it’s an occasional bad number. But if it’s bad next month, then it puts some worry into it.”

Hughes said he was surprised at the gains at the local level of the public sector, given municipalities’ concerns with budget caps and that significant gains or losses usually only appear in September and June.

“Quite frankly, it amazes me that there’s an increase. It must be in schools or county government, because I don’t see it in municipal governments,” said Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. “There’s been more work force reductions (in municipal government) — about a third in each — in the last two years than there has been in the last 50 years.”

According to Naroff Economic Advisors Inc. President Joel Naroff, job increases in the local public sector stem from education, but not in the sense that 3,100 workers were hired in March.

“In the last couple of years in New Jersey, there have been a lot of cutbacks in schools. The seasonally adjusted factor begins to account for that, creating a job growth number,” Naroff said. “That doesn’t mean schools were adding people, it just means they were cutting their work force less than they had been in the past. These March numbers are bringing us back to earth on the kind of job creation going on.”

Industries in the private sector that recorded the largest losses were professional and business services, with a loss of 4,000 jobs; construction, with 3,200 jobs; education and health services, with 1,800 jobs; manufacturing, with 1,500 jobs; and financial activities, with 1,400 jobs.

Over the year, total nonfarm employment in the state has increased by 38,300 jobs, and since February 2010 — the low-water mark for employment during the recession — private-sector employers have added 60,600 jobs.

Small employment gains were seen in information, with 800 jobs, and trade, transportation and utilities, with 100 jobs.

"The majority of indicators suggest that New Jersey employment growth will continue over the long term, creating a stronger economy for everyone," said Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state Treasury, in a statement.

February estimates were revised lower, by 1,700 jobs, to show a total nonfarm employment gain of 7,000.

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