Department of Labor Commissioner Says NJ on the Right Track to Economic Recovery

Jobs have become a major issue in this election season and the latest jobs report has provided fuel for both Republicans and Democrats because more jobs were created in June but unemployment rose slightly. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold Wirths told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the state is on the right path to recovery.

The increase in unemployment can be attributed partly to high school and college graduates entering the workforce. Wirths explained that more than 8,700 people entered the labor market since May and that 28 states in the U.S. saw their unemployment tick up one-tenth of a point or more.

“We had just come off of four great months of declines. We declined nine-tenths of a point in a row, which was the biggest decline since 1977, so it was to be expected,” Wirths said. “We did have a lot of people enter the labor market, so that’s good news. You had your high school graduates and your college graduates and just people who are feeling more encouraged by the job news that they’re reentering the market.”

Wirths said he hopes the unemployment rate continues to go down. “The volatility month to month really means nothing. The trend is our friend. It’s our fifth month in a row of job creation. We had nine out of the last 11 months of job creation. Year over year we created 75,000 jobs in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “Actually this year, at the rate we’re going, we’re on track to have maybe the biggest job creation year in the history of the state of New Jersey.”

May’s job numbers were revised upward by 3,000 jobs. Wirths said in the last two months, New Jersey has created 21,000 jobs. “Now we’re up over 148,000 private sector jobs that have been created. We had lost 250,000 jobs coming into this recession so we’ve recaptured over 60 percent of the total jobs lost and almost all of them are in the private sector,” he said.

The latest jobs report showed that the majority of jobs created were in the public sector. Wirths said the 2,300 jobs created at the state level are mostly seasonal because the Department of Environmental Protection and NJ Transit do a lot of seasonal hiring and he doesn’t expect a trend of more public sector jobs.

“I think that’s such a small swing,” Wirths said. “This month is a huge percentage of it, but I think, again, over the course of the year, out of all of those jobs created year to year, I think 10,000 were in government — federal through local government — out of 150,000 jobs.”

The biggest growth area, according to the latest report, was in the hospitality industry while manufacturing continues to decline. Although hospitality jobs tend to pay less than others, Wirths doesn’t believe New Jersey will have a trend of just creating low-paying employment opportunities. “We’re also creating a lot of high paying jobs in the professional business services and financial services,” he said.

But manufacturing continues to suffer in the Garden State.

“The heydays of New Jersey manufacturing unfortunately seem to be over. But we are working on a lot of different things to help the manufacturing industry and we just recently got a large federal grant to help pilot programs that have been successful in retraining people in manufacturing and helping different manufacturers,” Wirths said.

Related: Rutgers Economist Says It Will Be More Than a Year Before NJ Fully Recovers from Recession