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Former Labor Commish Says Jobs Report Could Have Been Much Worse

12-20-12

The jobs report that came out today offered mixed messages. One preliminary report shows that New Jersey lost 8,100 jobs in November. At the same time, the unemployment rate for the same period dropped one tenth of one percent to 9.6 percent, which means the state’s unemployment rate has now dropped three months in a row. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with New Jersey’s former labor commissioner Albert Kroll to make sense of the new data.

In light of Hurricane Sandy, Kroll says the unemployment figures could have been a lot worse. “You had to anticipate there was going to be a loss in the leisure and hospitality,” said Kroll.

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Kroll acknowledged the state’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate is still significantly higher than the national jobless rate of 7.7 percent. But the consecutive drop for the past three months is a positive trend, he says.

Short term, Kroll predicts that there will be a significant pickup due to demand in construction.

“Two weeks ago, I was at the local 446 IBEW for a meeting and they are the local that has statewide jurisdiction over linesmen and I pulled into the parking lot, there was no spots available,” he recalled. “You’re going to see work in regards to carpenters, plumbers, electricians on a short term basis until you get it back up.”

The increase in construction will be visible and felt by travelers heading down the shore when the tourist season kicks in, according to Kroll.

“We curse all the time about the traffic going down the shore — the one-lane highways going in and out of towns — those roads are going to be ripped up by construction deals.”

From a policy standpoint, Kroll underscored the importance of providing training programs for the unemployed. Speaking from his own experience during his time as labor commissioner, he says the key for the legislators and the governor is to recognize which areas are going to have job opportunities in the future in setting up those training programs.

“I can tell you now I made one of the biggest mistakes at that time. Our ten hottest jobs — number one, number two — was computer programming. We trained people for computer programming but what we did not anticipate was that business was going to outsource those jobs. We trained people for what we thought was going to be a positive job for them for the future, well paying $65,000 – $75,000.”

One state that might provide a road map for job creation is Massachusetts. According to Kroll, the New England state gets it right when it comes to linking the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields with higher ed.

“You look at the foreign students coming to attend our universities, not just in New Jersey but across the United States, look at the majors that they’re going into. They’re going into the science, technology, engineering and math.” He said woefully, “at Rutgers right now, the two biggest groups [are] psychology majors and communications majors … it tells me a lot.”