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Continuing unemployment claims drop below pre-recession average

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New unemployment claims continued to rise in New Jersey during the week ending Sept. 29, but continuing claims fell below the pre-recession average for the first time since mid-2008.

The data, released this morning by the U.S. Department of Labor, suggest the state's labor market is stabilizing, according to Patrick J. O'Keefe, director of economic research at CohnReznick LLP.

New unemployment claims rose 1.2 percent in the week ending Sept. 29, the fourth consecutive weekly rise. But O'Keefe said new claims were still 7.2 percent below the same week last year, and 11.2 percent below the weekly average from 2003-07. September as a whole saw the lowest number of new filings since September 2007, O'Keefe said.

"New Jersey's labor market is experiencing the normal turnover that we would associate with a jobs market that is stable and perhaps growing," O'Keefe said.

Continuing claims — a measure of those regularly receiving weekly unemployment benefits — dropped 1.6 percent, continuing a downward trend since the end of 2009. O'Keefe said that's another sign that "we've gone from the extraordinary high levels we saw in 2009… to a point where we now are back down in the most recent week to what was the average in the five years prior to the downturn."

O'Keefe said 2003-07 wasn't a perfect labor market, but it does represent a period when the economy was performing generally well, thus providing a good metric against which to measure the labor recovery.

While the data show a stabilizing labor market, O'Keefe said it's not possible to tell from these data whether jobs are being added.

"A low number of initial claims tells us layoffs are at a normal level, but it doesn't provide any insight with regard to the amount of hiring going on," he said.

New Jersey's overall unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in August. That number measures those looking for work, regardless of whether they receive unemployment benefits. The state is expected to release September's jobless rate next week.

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