Labor Commissioner Says Jobs Report Shows Trend is In New Jersey’s Favor

The March jobs numbers that came out today shows that the state’s unemployment rate lowered from 9.3 percent to 9 percent. A closer look at the report reveals that employers in the state overall added 8,100 jobs last month, all because of gains in the private sector primarily in industries like leisure, hospitals, education and health services. At the same time, public employment dropped by 2,300 jobs.

For what it all means for the state’s long-term employment outlook, NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Hal Wirths, Commissioner of the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Wirths called the drop in unemployment in the past two months from 9.5 to 9 percent “astounding” and said that it confirmed the state is making progress in job creation.

“January we were down a little bit but you had almost 43,000 jobs created in the state of New Jersey and … the bulk of them are in the private sector,” said Wirths. “Since February 2010, which is the low point of the recession and the full month of Gov. Christie’s term in office, we’ve created now 27,000 private sector jobs in the state. So it’s definitely very, very encouraging and the trend is our friend.”

Wirths attributed the downward trend to the general improvement in the economy, both at the national and state level. He said that labor participation in New Jersey is showing an increased optimism by job seekers.

“For instance, the national numbers last month 490,000 people got discouraged and dropped out of their market, we’re not seeing that in New Jersey. We have almost 66 percent labor participation rate which means that people are either working or they’re looking for a job.”

While he is satisfied with the news today, Wirth said there is still a lot of work to do to recover the jobs lost since the Great Recession.

‘We went through the worst recession since the Great Depression and we just started getting our heads above water a little bit and then we get hit with the worst storm ever to hit New Jersey, second worst storm in history — superstorm Sandy — and also as department of labor, I’m hit with sequestration from the federal government.”

The full impact of the sequester has yet to be felt in New Jersey. But the pain will eventually be felt by those receiving extended unemployment benefits, warned Wirths.

“I want everyone in New Jersey to know there are 26 weeks that are secure that will continue to pay at state funds but the federal funds will start dropping off as the sequestration continues,” he explained. “We expect it to happen over the next several weeks or months … Right now, the maximum you can get is 73 weeks but really it’s going to end cold turkey January 1, 2014.”

The downward trend also continues for public sector jobs. Wirths said that as labor commissioner he doesn’t like seeing anyone lose a job but that the gains made in the private sector should offset those losses.

“I think that government has stabilized now and a lot of pain has gone through at the local and state level and it shows that loss in government jobs has pretty much stabilized.”