New Jersey’s Unemployment Rate Climbs for Sixth Straight Month

  • Garden State copes with roadwork shutdown amid funding impasse
  • Christie has touted employment gains made since taking office

New Jersey, where Republican Governor Chris Christie has touted the state’s economic recovery, saw its unemployment rate climb for a sixth straight month in August.

The 5.3 percent jobless rate, up from 5.2 percent in July, is unchanged from a year earlier, according to preliminary data the state released on Thursday. In February, it dropped to a post-recession low of 4.3 percent. New Jersey’s unemployment level, which fell below the U.S. rate last year, now exceeds it.

The Christie administration highlighted the state’s total employment, which increased by 2,200 jobs in August, and gains of 274,600 private-sector jobs since 2010. Still, figures for July were revised to show a drop of 7,800 jobs, more than the preliminary estimate of a 4,700 loss. The unemployment rate measures jobs held by residents, while the total employment number estimates jobs based in the state.

Christie, 54, whose term ends in January 2018, vetoed a Democratic-sponsored bill on Aug. 30 that would have boosted the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021, saying it would set back the state’s recovery by increasing businesses’ labor costs. Democrats, who control the legislature, say the boost would help low-wage workers, and plan to take the issue directly to voters.

Commuters are also feeling the pain of a roadwork shutdown that has left thousands of workers without jobs. The governor on July 8 halted more than $3.5 billion of transportation projects after the Senate rejected a funding plan that would have lowered the sales tax in exchange for raising the gasoline tax.

Anthony Attanasio, executive director of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey, said the bulk of the job losses in his industry occurred right after the shutdown, when 3,200 such positions were shed. The impasse is being felt by all industries that support construction, from material-supply companies to accountants to insurers, he said.

“We never thought that government would be so broken at this point that something as major as funding our infrastructure” would be at an impasse for three months, Attanasio said. “The ramifications of this, I don’t think folks truly appreciate this yet.”

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