New Jersey’s economy is still too weak for some
EWING, N.J. (AP) -- Gov. Chris Christie zeroed in on the bright spots in New Jersey's economy in his State of the State address last week, but the economy remains too sluggish for many across the state.
Christie's State of the State address highlighted New Jersey's tumbling unemployment rate -- down to 6.4 percent from 9.7 percent when he took office in 2010 -- and came as he considers running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
What he didn't mention was that progress trails the national average and neighboring states.
Labor Department statistics show that, while companies created 150,000 jobs over the past five years, New York and Pennsylvania have outpaced New Jersey, with 624,000 and 285,000 JOBS.
That has irked some New Jersey residents who say the governor's optimism doesn't match reality.
Dennis DeRisi, of Cranbury, works part time as a shuttle-bus driver for Mercer Community College. He describes himself as conservative and is registered as a Republican. He even wears a Dallas Cowboys hat -- the same team Christie roots for and faced intense criticism over when he attended games with team owner Jerry Jones.
But DeRisi is not satisfied with the progress the state has made under Christie. After he failed to make it as a real estate agent, DeRisi got his commercial driver's license but could only find the 30-hour-a week job he currently has. The position comes without benefits, he said.
"What has really changed?" DeRisi asked, pointing to the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes.
Christie pointed to the cap on property taxes enacted in 2010. The 2 percent cap has helped keep rates down, but because of exemptions for some towns and cities, rates have risen above the cap level. Christie also delayed the homestead tax rebate for older residents, pushing the rebate back until May of this year.
Other residents worry that there are not enough jobs in the state.
Paterson resident Gerard Burns came to Trenton this week to call on government to help urban young people find jobs and said Christie has not done enough to help people in New Jersey's cities get jobs.
"Can a brother get a job?" he said "There's not jobs available and what are they to do?"
Youth unemployment in New Jersey was higher than in the neighboring states at 24.5 percent in 2013 compared with 21.9 percent in New York, 22 percent in Pennsylvania and 19.6 percent in Delaware, according to Labor Department statistics.
But for every statistic Christie's critics use to cast him in a negative light, Christie can point to a competing metric to support his claims that the state is progressing -- and that's nothing new. Governors of both parties have done just that, experts say.
"Economists can look at all different measures and try to make their point," said Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison. "How the economy's doing is somewhat of a gut reaction."
Indeed Christie did not mention that the improving jobs picture in the state has lagged behind the nation's, which had an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent as of November.
In a speech aimed in part at a national audience Christie also addressed the criticism that the economic growth was not enough.
"It has become fashionable in some quarters to run down our state," he said. "I get it. That's politics. But let's be clear. Our growth in this past year has been part of a trend."
He also seemed to speak directly to critics like Burns who worry about New Jersey's urban population.
Christie held up Camden as an example of how new strategies instead of simply increased spending could provide a model for other cities. Specifically, he talked about the falling violent crime rate as more police officers have been added.
Christie also pointed to private companies pledging last year to invest more than $600 million in Camden. Under tax incentive programs, those firms - including Subaru of America and the Philadelphia 76ers - are in line for future tax credits equal to the amount they're investing. They have to make their promised investments and provide jobs before they receive the benefits.
That contrasts sharply with the recent news of Mercedes Benz's departure from Bergen County to Georgia.
Still, for some residents efforts like those in Camden contribute to Christie's image as a competent manager.
"For all that people say about him, I do think he's doing his best," said self-described liberal Chelsea Van Orden, a senior at The College of New Jersey. "I accept people who are doing their best."