The number of people filing for unemployment benefits may be up slightly in New Jersey and across the nation, but the longer-term trend is pointing to a healthier job market.

"We'd had a 50 percent spike in claims filing in New Jersey at the very end of December," said Pat O'Keefe, Director of Economic Research at J.H. Cohn in Roseland. "Since then, claims have come down very rapidly. The number of layoffs is declining which is an indication that employers have a need not only to keep people on board, but probably to add people."

The number of people receiving regular weekly unemployment benefits rose for the third consecutive week in New Jersey. But the rate of the increase slowed significantly, with claims up only 0.6% compared to 11.6% the week prior. "Based on past experience, I expect the seasonal rise in the number of claimants to continue for another month," said O'Keefe. "Despite the rise, the total numbers have been trending downward since mid-2009."

For the 107th consecutive week, there was a year-on-year decline in the number of recipients. During the week ended January 7, the total number of claimants was 8.8% below the first week of 2011. In the most recent week, New Jersey had 31.8% fewer claimants than in March 2009.

"Overall, it's a much more positive situation than anything we've seen over the last four years," said O'Keefe.