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Unemployment rate drops despite N.J.'s shrinking public payroll

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New Jersey's private-sector employers added 1,100 jobs in September, while the state's unemployment rate dropped by 0.1 percent, but public-sector employment dropped by 2,300, more than offsetting the private-sector gains, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced.

According to today's announcement, total employment fell by 1,200, while the August employment gain was revised downward by 3,000 jobs, from 5,300 to 2,300. The unemployment rate is now 9.8 percent.

"I think it's the continuation of the pattern we've seen," said James Hughes, dean of Rutgers University's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "We've been moving forward at a very slow pace."

Hughes noted that while the state lost 117,000 private-sector jobs in 2009, it gained 10,200 in 2010 and 33,400 in 2011, and is on pace to add roughly 37,000 this year." The trend is positive, but it's still going to take us a long time to get out of the deep hole we've fallen into," Hughes said.

Hughes added that even with the differing direction of private and public employment in September, "in percentage terms, the private sector is still down much further than government employment from the start of the recession."

The state's unemployment rate has been fourth-highest in the country in recent months, behind Nevada, California and Rhode Island. The state-by-state numbers for September will be released Friday.

Charles Steindel, chief economist for the state Department of Treasury, had a positive take on the report.

"While New Jersey's job market in September still showed the effect of the summer doldrums apparent in the national figures these last few months, there are positive signs," Steindel said, pointing out that the state's labor force participation rate and employment population ratio are above the national average. He said the drop in unemployment "might be a sign that the situation will be getting better."

Industries that saw gains included "other services," which includes a range of service industries and gained 3,200; information, which gained 2,900; and education and health services, which gained 1,200.

The industries that saw the largest losses were construction, which lost 4,200 jobs; professional and business services, 2,400; and leisure and hospitality, 1,100.

Hughes said the drop in professional and business services was a "one-month blip," since the industry has gained 5,600 jobs over the past year, while leisure and hospitality and education and health services also have been leading gainers over the past year.

"We're getting a lot of variation from month to month," Hughes said of the industry numbers.

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