With New Jersey’s unemployment rate rising to a new 35-year high of 9.9 percent, the Christie administration yesterday took aim at the methodology used to determine the rate, saying there is clearly something awry with the nationwide household survey used to come up with the numbers.
Charles Steindel, the Treasury Department’s chief economist, said the increase in New Jersey’s jobless rate from 9.0 percent to 9.9 percent over the past five months is contradicted by employer surveys showing a gain of 50,000 jobs over the past year. Administration officials noted that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Connecticut labor officials also have questioned the validity of the unemployment rate calculations.
But Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was skeptical of the Christie administration’s claims.
“This feels like Groundhog Day,” Sweeney said. “Every month we have to hear the same bad news, followed by the same inevitable spin from this administration trying to hide why it is so completely inept at getting people back to work.”
Gov. Chris Christie and administration officials insisted that the state is enjoying healthy job growth, despite yesterday’s announcement that the jobless rate rose from 9.8 percent in July to 9.9 percent in August, while the national unemployment rate dropped from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent
The Republican governor said that his administration has added 86,200 jobs since he took office in January 2010, making up one -hird of the jobs lost under his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, during the 19-month recession that ended in June 2009.
“Keep the big picture in mind,” Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts urged. “New Jersey added 5,300 total jobs in August, giving New Jersey positive job growth in 10 of the last 12 months. “
Steindel said it’s “nuts” to believe that unemployment has been going up in New Jersey. “We’re not seeing unemployment claims shoot up like we did at the beginning of the recession,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Steindel noted that the unemployment rate announced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is based on national surveys of 60,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. He questioned the validity of determining unemployment rates on the basis of 1,200 to 1,500 interviews of New Jersey households, although that number is considered a more than adequate sample size for political polls.
Like Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) shrugged off the Christie administration’s insistence that New Jersey’s employment picture is improving.
“The fact that we’re very nearly at 10 percent unemployment is extremely disappointing news, especially for New Jersey’s middle-class and poor still desperately seeking work,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex). “It’s good to see jobs being added, but it’s obviously nowhere near enough. New Jersey is almost two points higher than the national unemployment average.”
For Christie, the announcement that the jobless rate had inched up from 9.8 percent to 9.9 percent capped a tumultuous week in which three ratings agencies expressed concerns about the state’s fiscal stability; his Treasury Department acknowledged that state revenues are coming in $100 million short; and Roche Pharmaceuticals decided to locate its new clinical research facility in New York instead of New Jersey.