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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's unemployment rate hit 9.9 percent in August, a disappointing showing the governor's office sought to blame on the way the federal government measures joblessness.
The state unemployment rate is preliminary and subject to revision. But the near double-digit joblessness at rates not seen in 35 years comes even as 5,300 jobs were added last month and job increases were reported in 10 of the last 12 months.
Charles Steindel, the Treasury's chief economist, said the jobless rate is at odds with signs of economic recovery seen in the state. He said the household employment survey the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to determine the unemployment rate is less reliable than a payroll survey of employers. The payroll survey showed a gain of 50,000 jobs over the past year while the household survey showed New Jersey losing 47,500 jobs during the period, he said.
"These are two totally divergent figures, the latter of which simply does not match other metrics of growth in the state," Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said in a statement.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat whose state saw a half percentage point jump in its unemployment to 9 percent in August, also voiced skepticism about the new numbers. He said his state unemployment claims are down and tax withholding revenue is up.
But Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn, said both federal surveys provide equally reliable snapshots of unemployment, and the latest report shows continued sub-par performance for New Jersey's job market.
"It's fairly common for the political reaction to unwelcome data to be criticism of the source of the data," he said.
New Jersey's jobless rate has been above 9 percent for 39 months in a row, or more than three years. Christie, 50, took office in January 2010.
The state gained 3,500 public-sector and 1,800 private-sector jobs for the month, but some of those were temporary workers.
Senate President Steve Sweeney said the continued high unemployment rate is alarming and shows Christie is abandoning his responsibility to the citizens of the state.
"Every month we have to hear the same bad news, followed by the same inevitable spin from this administration trying to hide why it is so completely inept at getting people back to work," said Sweeney, a Democrat.
Steindel said the administration used employer survey data to make its budget calculations, so it saw no reason to revise its revenue projections for the fiscal year that began July 1. The budget the Democrat-led Legislature adopted and the governor signed relies on 7.2 percent revenue growth through next June 30. It's fallen shy of that mark by 4.9 percent through the first two months of the fiscal year.
July's unemployment rate of 9.8 percent may be revised slightly next year because updated figures show the state lost 4,700 fewer jobs than previously estimated. If the rate goes up or down by one-tenth of one percent, it still would be the highest unemployment rate since 1977, a year that began with 10.6 percent unemployment.
Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in August. But that was only because fewer people were looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for work.
New Jersey's current jobless rate also does not count 14,700 people who left the labor market in August, many as discouraged job-seekers. If those people were still part of the labor pool, the state's unemployment rate would be 10.3 percent, O'Keefe said.
Only California, Nevada and Rhode Island have unemployment rates above 10 percent.