The South Jersey economy has been struggling for years but a new report finds things are looking up.

The South Jersey Economic Review, released by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, shows improvement in several key areas.

“We saw an increase of about 4,600 jobs, which translates into about 3.6 percent,” said Oliver Cooke, a Stockton professor of economics and editor of the Review.

“Most of the job gain, of course, was tied to the two new casinos that were opened, which added about 3,500 jobs or so to the local economy. But even outside of casinos, non-casino employment was up by about a thousand jobs or so and was relatively broadly based.”

The Ocean Resort Casino and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opened in June.

“The gaming industry had a very good 2018 relative to where it’s been over the last decade. Gross gaming revenue was up about $200 million or so,” he said.

“A lot of that was tied to brick-and-mortars, about half of that gain. And then, of course, internet and sports betting added about $100 million or so.”

At the same time, he pointed out “the unemployment rate continued to fall as the labor force actually recorded its first annual gain in several years, and the housing market continued to see some improvements.”

The report notes the South Jersey unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent from 7.2 percent and Cooke said the decline came amid an increase in the labor force.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen the unemployment rate trend down but a lot of that was because of a decline in the labor force," he said.

On the flip side, however, Cooke said it’s unclear whether the momentum in the casino industry “really has legs.”

“Six of the 7 already existing casino properties saw revenues decline in the second half of 2018, so there’s some hesitation over what that’s going to look like as we move out into 2019.”

Several states in the Northeast will soon legalize internet-based gaming as well, which will drive up competition.

The report also finds the new Stockton University campus in Atlantic City will benefit the city.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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