The latest job numbers released today show New Jersey added 66,400 jobs in 2012, a 38 percent increase from the previously announced figure. While the news was good on that front, the unemployment rate for January came in at 9.5 percent, the same as last December. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold Wirths told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he’s encouraged by the newly released numbers.
“It brings the final numbers to 117,00 private sector jobs created since February of 2010 which was the low point. It was also the governor’s first month in office. So we’re very, very happy with 117,000 jobs created,” Wirths said. “We’re happy that the unemployment rate ticked down and to be revised upwards of 18,000 jobs, that’s a big move.”
New Jersey’s unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is still one of the highest in the country, but Wirths said that the good news is that the state has a higher than average labor participation rate, which refers to the number of people working and actively looking for work.
“We’re up to 66.4 percent [labor participation rate] compared to the nation’s at 63 percent,” he said. “And to put it in perspective, if our labor participation rate was the same as the nation, we’d be somewhere around 7 percent unemployment.”
Nationally, there are more discouraged workers, according to Wirths, and New Jersey is moving to employ more of its residents. “The bottom line is that we have 117,000 jobs more than when Gov. Chris Christie came in compared to the years before when we lost almost a quarter of a million jobs so the numbers are what they are and we’re very proud of the 117,000 jobs out there since February 2010,” he said.
The increased number of jobs has come from the private sector. According to Wirths, there have been fewer public sector jobs. “The public sector has shrunk. In 2011, it actually went down. In 2012, it stabilized a little bit. But even this January’s number was a creation of 3,000 private sector jobs. Government shrunk by 400 so we had a net of 2,600 for the month of January,” he said. “While no one likes seeing anyone lose a job, the private sector’s growing and the public sector’s shrinking and those are two things that we need to have a better New Jersey.”
Wirths is involved in a jobs creation program that has put unemployed New Jerseyans to work in public jobs. “The day after Hurricane Sandy, my staff was in and applied for a national emergency grant. We received $15.6 million of federal funds to put long-term unemployed people to work and I’m proud to say as of today we have 700 people that are working who didn’t have jobs a few weeks ago,” he said.
Those individuals are working throughout the state mainly on Hurricane Sandy recovery. Thirty-five individuals are working with the Department of Environmental Protection cleaning up state parks. Others are in Bradley Beach helping to rebuild dunes. More are working to remove trees from roadways in Hillsborough. DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is considering using the workers to clean up debris on the beaches in the summer as well.
“It’s a win-win for New Jersey. You’re taking people who are just so grateful to have a job and a paycheck and they’re working,” Wirths said. “And the state of New Jersey is getting a benefit by getting its state cleaned up after a horrific storm.”
The possible effects of the federal sequestration concerns Wirths. “We get a lot of federal money. It’s a little too early to tell. It could have some impact on people’s unemployment checks that are being paid with the federal part — the tiers 1, 2, 3 and 4,” he said. “So there is concern that those checks could actually shrink going forward if there isn’t a deal struck soon.”