The U.S. added 148,000 jobs in September — less than many economists expected, but August data were revised upward and the unemployment rate fell to 7.2 percent, from 7.3 percent, according to the Labor Department.
Although delayed three weeks by the federal government shutdown, the September report doesn't reflect that event.
Rutgers University economist Jim Hughes said September was "certainly not as strong as the early part of the year. We started off the year like gangbusters, then we have seen a slowing over the summer. Now we are going to get some strange numbers for October, November and December with the disruption (from the federal government shutdown). In 2013, we came in with a bang, and we are going out with a whimper."
He said in New Jersey, the first six months of 2013 outpaced 2012, then July and August were very weak.
"I think that reflects the aftershocks of superstorm Sandy. The Shore resorts had a very bad summer, so people weren't renting homes, they weren't making day trips and a lot of the money that would have been spent at the Shore" went elsewhere. Hughes said the pace of Sandy rebuilding has been slower than many people expected.
"I think the combination of those two things was sort of like a pause button for the New Jersey economy," he said.
Harvey Bass, chief executive of the job placement firm Stascom Technologies, said hiring is strong for those who are already employed and want to change jobs. "Good candidates are in the driver's seat." He said a candidate who is being recruited to change jobs may be able to get a 10 to 15 percent salary increase.
"Small to medium-sized companies are hiring much more than the big companies," Bass said. "There is a lot of hiring going on with companies with less than 50 people, and companies under $300 million a year." He said hiring is across the board, including financial services, medical and office equipment.
But for the long-term unemployed, "their plight isn't going to get much easier," Bass said. "I would say 90 percent of the hiring going on right now is people switching jobs."
Jack Mozloom, spokesman for the New Jersey chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said many small businesses are reluctant to hire.
"Our members are extremely wary of the direction of the country," he said. "They are uncertain of how public policies like the health care law are going to affect their businesses, and they are extremely reluctant to hire because of it."
Patrick O'Keefe, chief economist of the accounting and consulting firm CohnReznick, in Roseland, said the September jobs report, "was a confirmation of the extent to which the economy was decelerating over the course of the summer."
He said in February, the three-month average of job gains was about 230,000, and in September was down around 140,000. O'Keefe said food service and retail, both major contributors to job gains this year, slowed sharply in September, and health care job growth also has slowed dramatically.