NJ unemployment rate up? But job growth is strong? Making sense of 2024 New Jersey economy

January 19, 2024

New Jersey’s economy added 12,200 jobs in December, but its unemployment rate ticked up to 4.8% from 4.7%, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday in a report showing the labor market in 2023 slowed down from its frenzied pace.

The jobless rate, higher than the U.S. rate of 3.7%, was a sign that rising interest rates and corporate downsizing took a toll on the New Jersey economy. But business owners said they are hopeful that lower inflation and falling interest rates will help them regain their footing this year.

Job growth remains strong

The strong job growth in December helped New Jersey end 2023 with a net gain of 69,600 jobs. By comparison, the state lost 303,600 jobs in 2020; added 265,600 jobs in 2021; and added 129,700 jobs in 2022; Rutgers University economist James W. Hughes said.

Despite the slowdown, Hughes said, job growth last year was twice as fast as it was during the decade of the 2010s. (The job figures will be revised in March to provide a more accurate estimate).

The unemployment rate spiked

The job gains were largely concentrated in three sectors: Health and education added 42,600 jobs; the public sector added 17,200 jobs; and leisure and hospitality added 13,900 jobs, Hughes said.

White-collar workers didn’t fare as well. Professional and business services, a category that includes scientific, technical and office workers, lost 8,500 jobs; and financial activities, which includes finance, insurance and real estate, was flat.

The number of New Jerseyans who reported they were unemployed climbed from 157,200 in December 2022 to 231,800 last month. The unemployment rate followed suit. It rose from 3.3% in December 2022 to 4.8% last month, state figures showed.

Asbury Park Press, January 19, 2024

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