NJ unemployment rate drops slightly, still behind the nation
The state's unemployment rate ticked down slightly during Phil Murphy's first full month as New Jersey Governor.
Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development show 15,800 jobs were added in the month of February and the jobless rate fell to 4.6 percent, from 4.7 percent in January.
Employment increases were recorded in all major private-industry sectors. Public sector employment dipped by 1,200 jobs.
"Usually New Jersey represents about 3 percent of the nation's economy, but our gain in jobs in February was 5 percent," said Robert Asaro-Angelo, acting labor commissioner.
More New Jerseyans are working now, Asaro-Angelo said, than at any point since last decade's recession.
The statistics are preliminary and could be revised upward or downward. Originally reported as 5 percent in January, a more complete analysis determined the state's unemployment rate was lower by three-tenths of a percent.
The Garden State has experienced a steady decline in unemployment over each of the last five years. It reached 9.3 percent in 2012 and 9.5 percent in 2010.
Still, the state's figures lag the nation's. The country posted a jobless rate of 4.1 percent in both January and February of this year.
"We would prefer to be on par with the nation, and the lower the number, the tighter the labor market and the better the chances are for somebody sitting on the sidelines to get back into the labor market," said James Hughes, a Rutgers University professor and an expert in New Jersey economics and demographics.
"The long-term trend is certainly positive ... but we still haven't gotten to where the nation as a whole is," Hughes said.
Part of New Jersey's issue, Hughes said, is a gap between the skills that employers require and the skills that workers possess.
"There are jobs available, but in many cases the skills of the job-aspirant do not match the requirements," he said.
Asaro-Angelo said the Murphy administration, and his department, are committed to making sure that economic development and workforce development "are two sides of the same coin."
Better coordination between government agencies is key, he said, in getting more people back to work. In his first two months on the job, he's had conversations with a number of employers struggling to fill positions. In a tighter labor market, he tells employers, more incentives may be necessary, beyond pay and benefits.
"I think the most important thing folks are looking for is having a career pathway," he said. "This isn't just a job for this season or this month or this year."