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With an Economy Like New Jersey's, Why the Love for Christie?

August 15, 2013

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's pugnacious personal style has won over the country's Republicans, not to mention unions and even some journalists, as he cruises to re-election this November. How well has he actually managed the state's economy?

Anyone can cherry-pick individual indicators to argue for or against Christie's record. So a better approach is to use a broad range of data, covering different aspects of the economy. Luckily, the crack economics team at Bloomberg News has created just such an index, called the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, or BEES, which tracks everything from employment to home prices to the stock performance of companies based in the state.

That index shows that Christie's time as governor hasn't, in fact, been good for New Jersey's economy. From the time he took office at the beginning of 2010 to March of this year, the state's performance on the measures tracked by BEES puts it 45th among the states. Before Republicans place Christie on a pedestal, they might want to take a closer look at those measures.

Let's start with the good news: Personal income and employment have both increased in New Jersey since he became governor. So has tax revenue, which the Bloomberg index uses as a proxy for economic activity.

Now the bad news. The increases in all three indicators lag the national median, in some cases severely. Employment is up just 2.2 percent, the sixth-lowest increase nationwide. Personal income has risen 10.5 percent, which sounds good but ties with Rhode Island for third-smallest gain in the country. Tax revenue is up 7.1 percent -- less than in 44 other states.

The picture for New Jersey-based companies is likewise uninspiring. The value of publicly traded companies has increased in every state since the end of 2009. That includes New Jersey, whose companies have seen their stock prices rise an average of 47 percent. But that leaves the state in 40th place nationwide.

On other BEES indicators, New Jersey has lost ground not just relative to other states but in absolute terms. Mortgage delinquencies have increased by 2.8 percent since Christie took office -- the most of any state during that period. Home prices are down 6.7 percent, putting New Jersey in the bottom quartile of states.

So compared to the country as a whole, New Jersey has faltered since Christie took office. What about compared with nearby states -- has New Jersey been held back by regional headwinds, which might cast its performance in a better light? No dice. New York State performed 19th in the country over the same period; Pennsylvania was 25th, and Delaware 36th. The only other Northeastern state in the bottom 10 was Maine.

(Bloomberg terminal users can play with the data themselves by checking out {BEES }; everyone else will just have to take my word for it. You can also view state-by-state economic data from Bloomberg here.)

Policy wonks will note that it's unclear just how much influence governors have over their state's economy. But that isn't Christie's argument. "We made a commitment from the beginning to grow New Jersey's economy," he said in June. The BEES index shows that from most angles, Christie has done a poor job keeping that commitment. In other words, his political success is despite his economic record, not because of it.

(Christopher Flavelle is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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