The latest numbers from the New Jersey Department of Labor show that more than 30,000 people found jobs in December, the single largest month for job gains since 1990. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold Wirths told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that the findings are encouraging for the state’s economy, despite a lingering high unemployment rate.
Wirths said he was encouraged and surprised by the strong December gain of 30,900 jobs, all of which are in the private sector. “We actually had a small decrease in government by 700, but having 30,900 private sector jobs is quite an accomplishment,” he said. “And actually the year 2012 was the best year of job gains in New Jersey in the last decade so there’s a lot of encouraging news. The other thing encouraging is we have nine categories of jobs, all private sector categories. All nine had increases this month.”
While Wirths said some of the jobs are likely related to Hurricane Sandy and the cleanup, especially in the area of construction, he added that the gains were across the board including professional services, transportation and hospitality. “It’s just a good sign for New Jersey that every single sector had large private sector job gains,” he said.
According to Wirths, the growth is sustainable. He praised Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to make a more business friendly environment in the state. “I think when government gets out of the way, you see the kind of job growth that we’re having here,” Wirths said. “There’s been over 103,000 jobs created since Gov. Christie has come into office. And as I said, 46,000 jobs created in the last year. So I think we’re well on our way.”
He also believes the Hurricane Sandy relief money that the Senate is likely to approve will have a positive effect on New Jersey.
Despite the gains, the state’s unemployment rate remains high compared to the national average and surrounding states. Wirths attributes that to the high level of labor participation in New Jersey — 66.2 percent — compared to the national average of 63 percent. The labor participation rate includes residents who are working or looking for work.
“We have one of the highest in the nation and it actually ticked up two-tenths of a point last month. So while the unemployment rate is stubbornly high, the good news is there’s a lot more people entering the labor force — tens of thousands of them since Gov.Christie’s come into office,” Wirths said. “So I think that you’ll start seeing the unemployment rate will start dropping, but the real reason it’s up this high is because our labor participation rate is three full points higher than the national average.”
While some may wonder if the high December gains can be attributed to seasonal jobs, Wirths said the numbers are seasonally adjusted, taking into account the hiring and layoffs of seasonal positions. “Each month they’re adjusted up or down by the federal government,” he said. “Right now it’s the 30,900 jobs but the seasonal jobs would be built into those numbers already in that formula.”
Overall, Wirths said the latest numbers offer good news for New Jersey. While he said naysayers continue to say the government isn’t doing enough to create jobs, he pointed out that the numbers speak for themselves.
“These are very accurate numbers put out by BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics]. They’re showing very encouraging growth in the private sector jobs. The government has shrunk, which as commissioner I don’t like seeing anybody lose their job, but I think to get New Jersey right, you had to get the government to be smaller,” Wirths said. “We’re at the smallest state number of employees in over a decade and the private sector is growing, exactly what you need to do to come out of this slump.”