The unemployment rate in Jersey remains at 9-point-1 percent - but the number of state residents filing for first-time unemployment benefits dropped 10 percent as February began.

Pat O'Keefe, Director of Economic Research at JH Cohn, says "here in New Jersey we've seen a very sharp decline in the number of initial claims - which are really a proxy for layoffs -immediately after the holidays, as we see every year - there was a spike in those layoffs - since then in New Jersey the number of initial claims has come down over 50 percent - and we're currently back to a level that is reminiscent of the pre-recessionary period …In fact on current trend I would expect we would see another 20 to 25 percent decline in the number of applicants for unemployment insurance benefits between now and the middle of next month."

He says "it is certainly an early indicator that employers are no longer laying off people because of concern about the demand for goods and service…and it suggests that employers not only have enough workers but if they get any increase in demand whatsoever, they're likely to hire more workers."

O'Keefe adds "when we look at our other employment data that we get on a monthly basis for the state, what we have seen over the past year is a steady upward trend in hiring in the private sector…and recent employment data tells us that our labor market is improving, and the more recent unemployment insurance statistics suggest that the improvement is gaining momentum."

He also points out "this has been very much the - yeah, but -recovery - and every time we say something positive, a but comes along to tell us- well don't get too far out in front of it …but now I think what we're seeing in the labor market here in New Jersey - nationally- is that the trend is not only upward, but it is picking up some steam…we don't want to get ahead of it however- it's not as robust - it's not gaining momentum as rapidly as is necessary to really make inroads into the large number of unemployed…even though job growth has picked up, we actually have fewer jobs in New Jersey than we did at the beginning of the year 2000 - in terms of getting those who want to work back to work, we still have a long way to go."