A new survey shows the nation added 238,000 private-sector jobs in December, the best showing in 2013, raising hope that the economic recovery will finally gain steam in New Jersey.
The report from the Roseland-based payroll data firm ADP marked the fourth straight monthly gain and included 48,000 new construction jobs, the best tally in that industry since 2006.
"It's a terrific welcome to the new year," Rutgers University economics professor Joseph Seneca said.
Seneca said the tailwinds bode well for the state. New Jersey lagged the national recovery for most of 2013, though employment picked up in November, with 16,900 new jobs added that month. Statewide jobs figures for December will be released later this month.
More and more, Seneca said, employers appear to be putting the uncertainty of 2013, with its "fiscal cliff" drama and government shutdown, in the rear view. Seneca, a member of the university's Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said he expects economic forecasts for 2014 to be upgraded based on the latest data, assuming there isn't another political disruption.
"The economy is shrugging off all the storms and fiscal showdowns we've seen, though that may come back in February like a bad movie -- Groundhog Day," Seneca said, referring to the nation's debt limit, which was extended to Feb. 7 and could result in another shutdown absent a congressional resolution.
"Otherwise, it's a good signal," Seneca said. "It confirms trends at the end of year and is a nice beginning to 2014."
Seneca said the marked improvement in the construction sector is particularly encouraging because it indicates the housing recovery is on solid footing. He said gains were also broadly spread across sectors, including manufacturing, which posted an additional 19,000 jobs. Manufacturing has performed better in New Jersey lately, with 6,500 jobs added in November.
Seneca said the federal government's unemployment report for December, set to be released Friday, should offer signs as to whether the recovery is sustainable.
National unemployment was 7 percent through November -- still higher than the typical 5 percent range of most economic recoveries. Plus, economists warn that the jobless rate is likely greater when factoring in discouraged workers who have dropped out of the labor force entirely. New Jersey unemployment stands at 7.8 percent.
ADP figures show the country added 2.15 million jobs in 2013. The December numbers would put 2014 on pace to add more than 2.8 million new jobs, which Seneca said is more reflective of a health recovery than the tepid gains of recent years.
ADP said small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 50 employees, contributed to nearly half the gains in the national report, adding 108,000 jobs. Large businesses, defined as employing more than 500, added 71,000 jobs. Midsize companies created 59,000 jobs.
"The job market ended 2013 on a high note," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said in a statement. "Job growth meaningfully accelerated and is now over 200,000 per month."