RUTGERS ECONOMIST JAMES HUGHES SAYS NJ REGAINING ITS FOOTING
By Michael L. Diamond/Asbury Park Press
January 12, 2012
New Jersey’s private sector for a decade failed to keep up with even the nation’s anemic job growth. But on pace in 2011 for its best performance since the high-tech bubble ended in 2000, the state appears to have regained its footing, a Rutgers University economist said Tuesday.
James W. Hughes said New Jersey gained 41,800 private-sector jobs through the first 11 months of the year, allowing it to leapfrog North Carolina and Georgia when measured by employment.
“The Great Recession and its aftermath have tilted the playing field back in the Garden State’s favor,” Hughes said.
Hughes spoke at Bella Vista Country Club in Marlboro to about 50 members of the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce.
And he provided evidence that New Jersey’s labor market, like the nation’s, gathered momentum in 2011, at least beginning what looks to be a painstaking task of recovering the 247,600 private-sector jobs the state lost during the recession and the following eight months.
Hughes’ assessment seemed to jibe with at least one business owner. Suzanne Pease, owner of Ampersand Graphics in Marlboro, works on branding campaigns for small businesses, and she said she is beginning to see signs that the economy is thawing. One example: She recently got a call from a home builder needing help on a project for the first time in two years.
“The outlook for the year is, we will be a little ahead of where we are now,” Pease said. “I do not expect overnight to be back where we were in 2000.”
New Jersey’s job market languished even before the recession hit the nation in December 2007, losing 154,000 private-sector jobs for the decade of the 2000s. And it dropped off the list of the 10 states with the most jobs for the first time, Hughes said, falling behind high-fliers North Carolina and Georgia.
That began to turn in 2010, when the state added 5,200 private-sector jobs, and then picked up steam in 2011, when the state added eight times more through the first 11 months of the year.
It is unlikely the state will match the 64,600 private-sector jobs it created in 2000, but New Jersey has rejoined the list of 10 states with the highest employment. (Figures for the entire year are scheduled to be released next week.)
What is at work? Hughes mentioned two factors:
The U.S. labor market is gaining traction. It added 1.9 million private-sector jobs last year, overcoming obstacles such as the tsunami in Japan, the European debt crisis and the inability of Congress to address major issues facing the nation.
“The Christie Administration has improved the state’s business climate, Hughes said, pointing to surveys of corporate executives in New Jersey. “This is the first time there is a concentrated focus on economic development,” he said.
The recession’s remnants, however, remain. Among them, New Jersey’s public sector in the 2000s expanded far beyond what the private sector could support, Hughes said. The two still need to find a balance.
And that won’t be easy. One oddity: New Jersey municipalities added 6,400 jobs through the first 11 months of 2011, he said.
“It does indicate how difficult it will be to achieve full rebalancing in the state,” Hughes said.