NJ lost 34,000 jobs in the past year. Are there choppy waters ahead?

March 24, 2024

New Jersey’s economy posted a loss for the first time in six months, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday, after the labor market showed signs of slowing last year.

The New Jersey jobless rate in February hovered at 4.8%, where it’s been since September, the latest data shows. That makes it the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and above the national rate of 3.9%.

All told, the state lost 34,000 jobs between February 2023 and 2024, state data shows. Higher-paying sectors such as finance, professional services (accounting, architecture, legal work, technology) and telecommunications slowed hiring in the past year.

“Certainly, growth has slowed, really in the second half of the year,” said James Hughes, an economist at Rutgers University.

Those higher-paying sectors — white-collar jobs — became saturated after having a “hard time filling their open positions” coming out of the pandemic, Hughes said.

“They’re filled now and they’re holding on to the people they have, but they’re not adding new people,” he said.

Lower-paying sectors such as leisure and hospitality, which were hit harder during the pandemic, continued their hiring surges last year. Health care is expected to grow as the baby boomer population ages and becomes one of the sector’s biggest consumers, Hughes said.

Figures show that leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, only just hit pre-pandemic staffing levels in January this year. Those establishments were pummeled by months of pandemic-related closures and reduced-capacity restrictions.

The monthly jobs report is made up of a survey of employers to measure the number of jobs and a survey of households to measure the unemployment rate. The two sets of data don’t always move in the same direction.

Since the pandemic, New Jersey’s job market has witnessed surging housing prices, the transition away from the office and toward remote work, an explosion of e-commerce and warehousing, and the highest inflation in 40 years.

NorthJersey.com, March 22 2024

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