New Jersey gained 17,600 jobs in May — a fact hailed by Gov. Chris Christie as a sign of the "New Jersey Comeback" and a vindication of his policies.
However, the unemployment rate increased by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 9.2 percent, as the number of residents who started looking for work outpaced the new jobs.
Christie announced the monthly jobs figures — the highest in seven years — at a press conference this morning in which he blasted Democratic legislators. The increase totaled 25 percent of the national job increase, Christie said.
"All of the rooting against New Jersey's comeback, all of the poor-mouthing that's going down the hall purely for political purposes, once again today is shown by statistics from the (Barack) Obama Labor Department to be nothing but pure partisan politics," Christie said at the press conference in his outer office in the Statehouse.
There were gains in both private sector employment, with 12,900 new jobs, and public-sector jobs, which took on 4,700 new hires. The leisure and hospitality sector — bolstered by the addition of the Revel casino, in Atlantic City — led the growth, with 9,900 new jobs.
James W. Hughes, dean of Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said the report was particularly significant because May was a weak month for national job growth.
"It was a good set of numbers that were given a boost by Revel," Hughes said, adding, "that's still positive, they are real jobs in the state."
Hughes said the report contributes to a positive three-year trend in the private sector. Following a 117,000-job drop in 2009, the state's private sector gained 10,200 jobs in 2010, 33,400 in 2011 and 27,500 in the first five months of 2012.
"We still have seven more months to go, so clearly 2012 is going to be much better than 2011 in terms of private-sector job growth," Hughes said.
But Hughes said he's "not sure this pattern of hiring will build out over a longer amount of time," since Revel's opening drove a large percentage of May's job growth, and "that's not going to happen every month."
Hughes also said the loss of 4,800 financial activities sector jobs — which range from bank tellers to high-paid brokers — was a "weak spot in the data" and a "pretty big loss for one month."
"The U.S. numbers set basic expectations, so if we get a weak number in June for the nation, I'm worried that will feed back into New Jersey," Hughes said. "New Jersey's number itself (for May) is surprising, but I'm not surprised by it. One week, there can be a burst of hiring, and the next week, there's a burst of layoffs."
Other industries that led the gains were trade, transportation and utilities, with 4,300 jobs; professional and business services, with 4,000; and education and health services, with 3,000.
The biggest industries to lose jobs were financial activities, which lost 4,800 jobs, and construction, which lost 3,900.
Christie noted that the state's labor-force participation rate is outpacing that of the country and of New York.
"We're getting back on track, people are going back to work and entering the labor force once again," Christie said.
Democratic legislators have reportedly agreed on an outline for a budget proposal. Christie appeared to be firing a warning shot in the press conference, saying legislators must cut taxes for residents.
"We choose to continue to fight to unleash their remarkable productivity and the economic energy of the people who live here," Christie said.
Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) rejected Christie's statements that the report vindicates his policies.
"The fact of the matter is New Jersey lags behind the nation, and has lagged behind the nation" since Christie became governor, Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski said Christie's only goal as governor has been to get talking points so he can reach national office.
Contributing: Katie Eder