New Jersey's unemployment rate fell again in April to 8.7 percent, the lowest it's been in four years, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

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The rate, which was 9 percent for March, declined for two opposing reasons.

The encouraging: The seasonally adjusted number of people working in nonfarm jobs grew by 3,300. The discouraging: 4,400 people stopped looking for work in April.

Still, Gov. Chris Christie's administration was touting the lower rate as a success. "The marked decline in unemployment over the last year mainly reflects the ongoing gains in jobs we are experiencing," Charles Steindel, the state Treasury Department's chief economist, said in a statement. He noted that 60,000 more New Jersey residents had jobs last month than in April 2012. That's the biggest 12-month gain in seven years, he said.

The biggest gains in April came in education and health services and leisure and hospitalities. The biggest job losses came in professional and business services. Public-sector employment was also down.

The state still has 54,000 fewer jobs than it did in 2008, when the state's labor force was at its pre-Great Recession peak.

Unemployment is shaping up as a major issue in this year's gubernatorial race. Christie, a Republican, is expecting to face Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono. She's been critical of his record on jobs creation, largely because New Jersey is lagging behind the country as a whole.

The U.S. unemployment rate for April was 7.5 percent.

Gordon MacInnes, president of the liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said in a statement that it's good to see the jobless rate fall under 9 percent for the first time since May 2009, but that "it would be foolish to claim victory and to assume that the state's economy has recovered. It hasn't."

He also said that the newly created jobs in New Jersey have been relatively low-wage.


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