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NJ’s Unemployment Blame Game [POLL/AUDIO]

New Jersey’s unemployment rate increased in August for the fifth straight month. According to state labor officials, 9.9% of New Jersey’s workforce is actively seeking a job.

At the same time, the number of jobs in the state increased by 5,300. It was the tenth monthly gain in the last year.

Democrats in Trenton, again, used the higher jobless rate to bash the record of Governor Chris Christie (R).

Governor Chris Christie
Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen

“It’s so unfortunate that Governor Christie has failed to devote more attention to jobs as the unemployment rate has increased under his watch,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski added, “During the month of August, Governor Christie spent 11 days campaigning out of state, days he could have spent here getting New Jerseyans back to work.”

In July, preliminary figures set the state’s jobless rate at its highest point in 35 years, 9.8%. However, that percentage may be revised in the months ahead after a closer look at the numbers. On Thursday, July’s jobs count was revised higher, up 4,700.

Given a familiar theme of rising unemployment despite an increase in jobs, Governor Christie described the latest report as “inexplicable.”

“These numbers simply do not make sense,” Christie said in a written statement.

Charles Steindel, Chief Economist for the New Jersey Department of Treasury, expressed similar confusion.

“One measure shows the state labor market to be very weak. The other one shows continued, steady growth. They can’t both be right,” Steindel said.

Employment figures for each state are determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A household survey of residents determines the unemployment rate, while a survey of employers results in either jobs lost or gained for the month.

According to the employer survey, New Jersey gained 50,000 jobs over the last year. According to the household survey, the state actually experienced a loss of 47,500.

“That’s kind of nuts because there isn’t really anything else in the state’s economy that suggests we’re seeing such a precipitous drop,” Steindel said. “We’re not seeing unemployment claims shoot up like we would in a recession.”

He said if the labor market were deteriorating at the pace suggested by the household survey, or unemployment rate, New Jersey would see 15,000 new claims per week. Instead, the current estimates are at 9,000.

Governor Christie noted a concern with the employment methodology is not specific to New Jersey.

Illinois gained 9,600 jobs according to the employer survey, but lost 24,000 workers according to the household survey.

Michigan lost 7,000 jobs and their unemployment rate spiked by nearly a half a percent.

Massachusetts lost 4,800 and had their rate rise from 6.1% to 6.3%, even with a revised gain of 300 jobs for July.

Likewise in Connecticut, a loss of 6,800 jobs came along with a half percent increase in the unemployment rate.

While no evidence has been offered for an actual problem with the federal formula, New Jersey’s labor department and those of other states have been discussing the issue with officials in Washington.

“It’s been a chronic issue, and there are talks underway,” Dr. Steindel said.

Patrick O’Keefe, Director of Economic Research at J.H. Cohn in Roseland, said the argument made by the Christie Administration is typical political reaction to unfavorable economic data – attack the messenger (in this case, the methodology). State democrats offered similar responses.

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