TRENTON – New Jersey’s economy added 13,600 jobs in May but still hasn’t recovered 44% of the jobs that disappeared last March and April when pandemic-related shutdowns were imposed.

Last March and April, the number of jobs in New Jersey plunged by 717,200, nearly 17%. It has gained jobs every month since then except one, adding 403,000 positions in total – but still remaining 314,200 short of the pre-pandemic peak.

At the rate jobs have been added so far in 2021, it would take until the end of 2023 for the economy to recover its pandemic losses.

But next month’s report could look different. The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development noted that the survey took place before pandemic-related restrictions on New Jersey businesses were lifted in late May, so any impact on jobs would become evident next report, issued July 15.

Leisure and hospitality businesses added 6,200 jobs, followed by 3,000 more trade, transportation and utilities jobs and 2,500 more jobs in education and health services. Seven of nine sectors gained jobs, but losses were recorded in construction of 2,200 and financial activities of 400.

Former state chief economist Charles Steindel called the construction sector “oddly weak” in an analysis for the Garden State Initiative think tank that concluded the overall economy is making “continued and reasonably steady progress.”

“As in the case for other sectors, the seasonal factors assumed a marked gain in May as the traditional building season moves ahead but hiring fell short of the mark,” Steindel said of the construction drop. “It’s not altogether clear what has hampered job growth in construction. It’s possible that shortages of building materials may be holding back activity and employment.”

The monthly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, released by the state, revised the April jobs estimate higher by 1,000, to a monthly increase of 4,900.

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The state’s unemployment rate in May was 7.2%, down 0.3% from its April level – and less than half the 16.5% recorded in May 2020.

In part, the unemployment rate was down because the labor force shrank by 6,200 people – slightly more than the 6,100 increase in people reporting that they were employed. Over the past year, the labor force has contracted by 64,600.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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