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Some optimism on jobs, but the growth is slow

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The 175,000 job gains for May reported by the federal government resonated with economic and labor market experts in New Jersey, while the slight uptick in the unemployment rate, to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent, was viewed as a sign that more job seekers are responding to the upturn and are looking for work.

Phil Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said when he talks to employers around the state, "I'm hearing a mix of stability and an upward tick."

He said some of the volatility employers had been coping with has dissipated: "We are growing — it's not by leaps and bounds every month, but it is consistent and steady. And that's good, because I think that kind of certainty breeds confidence. Every month you go up, even if it's not by a lot, but every single month that arrow is pointing up brings confidence both to employers and to the public."

Koleen Singerline, a principal of the staffing company The Work Group, which has offices in Shrewsbury, Lakewood and Spotswood, said the government is reporting good job numbers, despite setbacks from Sandy.

"They've come past that now," she said. "The Shore area is coming alive, and we're seeing some good activity." She said distribution companies and service companies are among those hiring. "Key employees, star employees, are always going to be difficult to identify, and that only becomes harder" as the labor market upturn continues, she said.

But Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said May's gains are "about half of what we need to accommodate population growth," and "small business is still not confident enough in the economy to hire employees."

Jack Wellman, president of the Edison temporary staffing company Joule Inc., said the national job numbers are in line with what he is hearing in New Jersey. "My sense is that companies are entering into the midyear with a little bit more confidence than they did earlier in the year, and that they are continuing to cautiously consider adding staff to their organizations to grow it to meet what is hopefully higher demand."

On top of that, "We are seeing more anecdotal conversations of people looking to change jobs, rather than looking for a job," Wellman said. "That, to me, is a sign of an improving labor market."

Harvey C. Bass, owner of the executive recruiting firm Stascom Technologies, in Sparta, said, "Almost every company we're dealing with is hiring, but they are still cautious. It's slow, steady growth with bumps along the way."

He said hiring is going on across the board, in respond to improved sentiment and demand.

"Customers are buying, customers are inquiring and people are hiring to support the whole sales process, whether it's sales people, accountants, shipping and receiving," Bass said. "Things are improving and people want to take advantage of it, but everybody is still a little cautious for fear of when the next downturn going to hit."

He said the labor market is "like a beautiful summer picnic with bees buzzing you. But two years ago, I was a lot more negative. The sentiment is positive, and the results are definitely that more hiring is going on."

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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