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Latest Job Numbers Cause Some Confusion

9-20-12

Inexplicable — that’s what the governor’s office called today’s job numbers.

The State Labor Department reports the state gained 5,300 new private sector jobs in August while at the same time the unemployment rate kicked up a tenth to 9.9 percent, the fifth straight month of increase.

Officials explain the two numbers are gathered at the federal level by two different methodologies — a survey of households and a survey of payrolls.

The Christie administration’s chief economist Charles Steindel held a conference call and said he and others think the payroll survey, which yields the job growth number, is more accurate.

“This is a nationwide problem. A lot of states are complaining about it. Connecticut has concerns with it. New York has concerns with it. There are significant issues with how they are reporting those numbers,” Steindel said. “The payroll numbers at the moment, we just think they’re more trustworthy number and the state’s economy is growing.”

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At the State Labor Department, Deputy Commissioner Aaron Fichtner echoed that interpretation.

“It’s a difficult thing to square. We’re seeing strong steady private sector job growth, we’re seeing the unemployment rate go up. Hard to understand exactly why they’re moving in different directions,” Fichtner said. “We’re focused on the jobs numbers, which we think are a more reliable indicator of the job market.”

Senate President Stephen Sweeney wasn’t too happy with the numbers. “Honestly, I’m heartbroken about it.”

Over in the legislative branch, Democrats were bemoaning an unemployment rate they say is the highest in New Jersey in 35 years. Sweeney said Gov. Chris Christie is wise to have dropped the “New Jersey Comeback” banner at his town hall meetings.

“The governor is in Iowa right now, a state where it’s 5 percent unemployment. Other states are doing something. We’ve waited for him to give us solutions,” Sweeney said. “We gave him some. He vetoed ‘em.”

Republicans note the state has gained jobs in 10 of the past 12 months, a total of 47,000 new jobs.

“We have more people working in the state of New Jersey than ever in our history. So we still have a struggle with those who are unemployed and looking, but we know businesses feel good about what’s going on in our economy and they’re looking to hire and we’ve gotta keep working at it.”

Labor Department officials stress that these are all preliminary numbers today — subject to change — but an awful lot of political rhetoric is being spun around some numbers there is not a lot of confidence in.

Michael Aron reports from the Statehouse.