New Jersey's unemployment rate hit a 35-year high in July, rising to 9.8 percent and reversing two consecutive months of strong private-sector jobs growth, according to figures released Thursday.
The state's jobless rate rose 0.2 percent in July. It has now been at or above 9 percent for 38 consecutive months.
The July unemployment rate is 1.5 percentage points higher than the national rate. Nationally, unemployment rose by one-tenth of 1 percent in July, to 8.3 percent. The state had 12,000 fewer nonfarm jobs in July than it did in June.
"It is a disappointing report after a couple of months in which the state appeared to be making progress toward addressing its labor market needs," said Patrick J. O'Keefe, director of economic research at J.H. Cohn. "We now have a record number of individuals unemployed in New Jersey."
Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths cautioned that the numbers are preliminary and stressed that New Jersey has seen private-sector job growth in nine of the past 11 months.
"May and June had two of the best rates of private-sector job growth in 12 years," Wirths told The Associated Press. He also said New Jersey has a higher percentage of its residents actively participating in the labor market than nationally, which skews the state's joblessness number compared to the national rate.
Nonetheless, O'Keefe said the report shows the largest month-on-month decline in total employment since June 2009 and the second steepest decline in private employment since February 2010.
"It's a reminder of the laggardly growth that the economy globally, nationally and here in New Jersey is experiencing," said O'Keefe. "As encouraging as the gain back in May was and as discouraging as this decline is, we have to keep in mind that progress is going to be slow and it's going to be erratic."
New York lost more than 4,000 jobs in July and saw a 0.2 percent unemployment increase to 9.1 percent. Connecticut's unemployment rate jumped by 0.4 percent to 8.5 percent. In New York City, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 10 percent.
Last month, New Jersey's unemployment rate jumped to 9.6 percent from 9.2 percent in May even as the state added 9,900 jobs.
The persistently high unemployment rate has Democrats questioning whether Gov. Chris Christie's so-called "Jersey Comeback" is actually moving forward.
Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald, a frequent critic of Christie's economic policies, derisively referred to it as the "Jersey Setback" Thursday.
"In addition to vetoing job-creation bills with bipartisan support, Gov. Christie has stubbornly rejected proposals for middle-class property tax relief that will grow New Jersey's economy,'' said Greenwald. ``We've had nearly three years of Christie's slogans, and the results are in: net property taxes are up 20 percent, unemployment is at a sky-high 9.8 percent and middle-class families continue to struggle."
Democratic leaders say Christie is overstating how well the state is doing and that the state should be cautious about enacting the tax cuts he wants.
However, Christie's office repeated its tax-cut mantra Thursday. In a statement to reporters, the administration said the 10 percent phased-in tax cut the governor proposed is essential to bolstering the state's economy and creating permanent jobs.
Wirths said the administration has seen restoration of a third of the 237,000 private-sector jobs they say were lost during Gov. Jon Corzine's administration.
He said if Democrats enact more of Christie's tax and regulatory cuts, job growth will accelerate.
The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a coalition of community organizations that lobby for progressive policies, was also critical, saying Christie is more interested in creating sound bites at the Republican National Convention, where he'll be keynote speaker, than in helping New Jersey's working-class.
"While Chris Christie hypes a 'Jersey comeback' in Tampa, working families will be struggling under the highest unemployment rate in decades," said Rob Duffey, a spokesman for the organization. "By any measure, Chris Christie's trickle-down policies of tax cuts for millionaires and cuts to services for working families are failing the vast majority of his constituents. Is this really the record the Romney campaign wants to hold up as a model for the nation?"