When Gov. Chris Christie delivered his 2014 budget address last month, he touted the growth of the private sector during his term, to the tune of 103,000 new jobs.
But, as legislative Democrats were quick to point out, there’s one number Christie didn’t mention: 9.6 percent. That’s the state’s unemployment rate as of December, and while new numbers are due out today, December’s data are significantly worse than the same-month rates of New York (8.2 percent), Pennsylvania (7.9 percent) and the United States as a whole (7.8 percent).
Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) called it “sky high,” noting it’s the fourth highest in the nation. But Charles Steindel, the state’s chief economist, argues the jobs number is more important than the unemployment rate.
Though the two data points are released simultaneously, the jobs numbers are based on surveys of employers checked against other data, such as state tax records. The unemployment rate is based on a household survey that uses a sample size Steindel said is too small to be accurate.
The unemployment rate also is based on the size of the labor force — those working or actively seeking work. Steindel said New Jersey’s labor force has almost returned to 2009 levels.
“That’s the explanation of why the unemployment rate is so high,” he said. “The labor force has basically normalized, but the jobs haven’t normalized.”
He said that also explains why the national unemployment rate has dropped faster than the state rate. He said other figures, like new housing permits and car sales, confirm New Jersey is recovering.
Not everyone agrees.
Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said New Jersey still lags its neighbors even if one looks solely at the jobs number. A report out by IHS Global Insight last week found New York already has surpassed its pre-recession employment peak, and Pennsylvania is set to do so early next year. New Jersey isn’t expected to do so until 2015.
“There’s something wrong here, and if we want to continue a conversation that would suggest we’re on the right track, we ought to acknowledge — and the governor ought to acknowledge — that it’s a very slow trek,” MacInnes said.
Steindel doesn’t disagree that the recovery has been slow, but he said it’s not the first time New Jersey’s suffered a lengthy recovery. The same thing happened in the 1990s, he said.